I’m not a person who believes in the alleged universe-balancing force of karma, where the bad Déjà vu brings forth an action that was the result of your own misdemeanour.
But as a native Western New Yorker, it’s hard to ignore the situation just around the western shores of Lake Ontario and not mull the existence of such a substance.
The darling of the 2014 offseason in Major League Soccer, Toronto FC was all the talk. Months after Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) brought Tim Leiweke aboard as CEO, the Reds splashed onto the transfer market and grabbed two big names: Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley. This was a Leiweke special – he is well known for his role at Anschutz Entertainment Group in wooing David Beckham to Los Angeles. This was going to be the year that TFC finally shed their early years of turmoil and presumably would make the MLS Cup Playoffs.
But Leiweke’s presence wasn’t for soccer alone, as much as it’s easy for the soccer media to get intensely focused on that avenue. In other countries, soccer does dominate the corporate sports world. Unfortunately in America, it finds itself buried on the sports totem pole.
Leiweke’s true mission became clear once Ralph C. Wilson, founder of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, passed away on March 25, 2014. Although the Bills sale process is mostly completed, reports began to surface that Leiweke’s true intent at MLSE was to orchestrate the Bills purchase from behind the scenes. His biggest contribution to date was introducing Jon Bon Jovi to MLSE Chairman Larry Tanenbaum however they were not selected, giving the Toronto-based group a vibrant personality to help deflect the negative vibes of pillaging a smaller market neighbor.
The rest of the story surrounding the Bills is still in the air, but all indications are that the Toronto group will be unsuccessful due to the NFL’s stringent ownership policies.
It’s not a stretch to surmise that Leiweke’s coming departure is directly related to that situation. Leiweke is also a skilled real estate broker, helping to develop the StubHub Center as well as other properties for AEG. Without an NFL franchise, and with only a modest early return on TFC’s spending spree, a new stadium is not on the cards. No new stadium, no need for a high-salaried negotiator.
So with Leiweke leaving and TFC sputtering a bit in a weak Eastern Conference, it was only a matter of time before the Reds’ big name players started fussing. Whether the interest from English Premier League clubs was initiated from the UK, or whether Defoe got his agent probing for a way out, it was sure to spell trouble for Ryan Nelsen.
Turned down transfer bids and a manager firing later, and TFC appear to be back to their old selves. Except for the fact they have some very talented players, and could conceivably put it together for a playoff run. Only time will tell how new Head Coach Greg Vanney will fare in keeping all the big names moving forward.
But as far as I’m concerned, TFC and MLSE’s maladies are all self-inflicted, by a corporation that went out of its way to pilfer a team from a small city to its south. Perhaps Tanenbaum and Leiweke should count the top-division championships their current holdings have earned (zero), and focus more on how to make TFC, the Raptors and the Maple Leafs better sporting entities.
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