TFC 2012

And the choir sings


And Bravo! Last night’s battle against Santos Laguna was one of the most entertaining Toronto FC matches I’ve ever watched. It was also an inspiring performance from a team that suffered through two dispiriting league results in the past few weeks. Julian de Guzman, in particular, rose to the occasion and played better than I’ve ever witnessed in TFC red.

My hat is off to you, gents, you outplayed my expectations. You even found a way to re-inspire my faith in your abilities and hope for this season.

An Ugly Affair

The scoreline settled on an unfortunate draw. The match was a grumpy scuffle from the start. And the churlishly impetuous conduct of the Mexican visitors was an unsightly and unsporting display of football’s worst theatricality. Nevertheless, from a spectator’s perspective, the action was constant. They may not have won, but the Reds held their ground through a contest with a confident and high-flying opponent. At least it was fun to watch.

The return to Torreon in Mexico next week will be an interesting event. Seattle came undone and the Santos stars, comfortable in their home setting, embarrassed them. Toronto FC have lost Danny Koevermans for that next match, after a second yellow card in these knock-out rounds. Given the contracting list of TFC’s star performers available now, a win in Mexico seems like an astronomical demand on the Reds.

Let it be said, however, that the team that showed up last night at BMO is due some respect. They played well individually, but they also really worked well together. It is unfortunate, even rather unlucky that Toronto didn’t score a second goal. It is also a testimonial to their psychological strength that they fought back from a goal deficit and, in many respects, looked like the better team.

La Mordida

I have spent time in Mexico. I really enjoy the country. I really love the people I’ve met down there too. So I’m not going to tar the citizens or nation with the view I have of the Santos team after yesterday’s game.

In Mexico, ‘la mordida’ (literally ‘the bite’) is the common term for the bribes, kick-backs and other graft that lubricates all official activities. Get an arbitrary traffic ticket, and the officer might withhold your license too… until you palm him some cash. Need an official stamp on a document? If you don’t want to wait three years, you better grease up that clerk’s hand with some dinero. Mexicans tolerate pervasive corruption and cheating in all aspects of life. If you can’t beat it, what choice do you have? It’s the drama you’re forced to engage with and endure.

It does not surprise me that this bias bleeds into sport. Rules, afterall, may apply, but they are also simple to ignore. If you’re powerful, you bully your way around them. If you’re not, you pay. On a football pitch, it becomes a case of manipulating the official charged with keeping order.

When the Santos players stayed upright and played the game, it was fun to watch. The rest was an irritating demonstration of why football ought to revise officiating in Latin America (among other localities) and rid the game of play actors and time-burners. (Without even getting into the issue of replays and carding, there are simple solutions at hand. If a player wastes five minutes of the clock over a knock that amounts to nothing, they should be forced to wait on the sideline for a minimum of five minutes before returning).

The ugly head-butting incident against Ashtone Morgan is the keystone of a shameful Santos arch of histrionics and poor sportsmanship. It may have been the first time those Mexican players have been booed loudly for diving and time-wasting. But if Santos Laguna want to bitch about a missed penalty call late in the game, perhaps they should think twice about staying on their feet and playing the sport rather than indulging in a head-game with the referee.

That non-sporting drama may be accepted in southern lattitudes as part of the pageant and the soap opera, but in the cold light of my day it comes across as a brazen form of cheating. Toronto FC put on what should be viewed as a character display. As a team, and in their conduct toward their opponent, they rose above the absurd diving and the nasty fouls Santos alternated between depending on the run of play.

We should be proud of that. And we should all hope that a bit of moral high ground leads to some luck in Mexico next week. And I’m trying to ignore old wisdoms like ‘nice guys finish last’ here.

Sadly, CONCACAF is weak-willed and barely legitimate as a ‘governing’ body. It cannot be expected to make right of Santos’ shenanigans by way of disciplinary action. There is no triumphant ‘high-road’ to take around corruption of intent. And that’s what Santos players showed on the pitch – a true definition of their character, individually and collectively.

Despite two red cards, Santos won’t be losing any players next week that can’t be replaced with equal or better talents. The deck stacks in their favour in that regard.

Just like LA before, Santos has everything to lose in this competition. They’re expected to win. They are trash talking and predicting a blow out.

We all know giants fall the hardest. I’m talking to you Herculez…

You may win the competition. You’ll never win my respect.

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