Away Games At Pizza Hut Park- My MLS Journey Continues

My attempt to appreciate and enjoy the MLS has this week led me to vigorously scrutinise every single highlight of Toronto FC’s 2011 season. Whilst doing so something rather interesting dawned on me; Major League Soccer is unquestionably not as mediocre as I had previously believed. In fact if you mute the commentary, some of the football is very much watchable. Whether it is the dreadlocked Kyle Beckerman bossing the midfield for Salt Lake City, Dwayne De Rosario smashing in goals for DC United or even Toronto FC’s Joao Plata mesmerizing a right back I have come to a significant conclusion. It is no longer the players that make Major League Soccer frustrating to watch; it is the rule makers.

The glaringly obvious issue is the fact that a team can finish bottom of the league yet face no penalty. Simply put, without promotion and relegation there is no passion or indeed drama for the bottom half of the table. The end of the season is simply a dull anti climax for fans who have to endure plenty of meaningless matches with play-offs out of reach. Now for American readers I’m sure you might feel this has been written and talked about to death. However the lack of demotion and promotion in MLS might come as a shock to some of my English readers, it did to me. It seems almost stubborn that those in charge of Major League Soccer won’t adopt a system that clearly has been largely successful across Europe.

So there is your big primary issue, but there are other problems with Major League Soccer. For instance; asking me to watch a football match in a stadium called ‘Pizza Hut Park’ is an affront, an attack to my footballing dignity. How can a relatively new football club start creating history in a stadium named after a chain of fast food restaurants, it is everything that is wrong with modern day football. Furthermore, young people should come away from a football match with the desire to kick a ball rather than the desire to eat as much as they can at a Pizza Hut Buffet. I recognise clubs need the revenue but if one more irritatingly pompous person tells me football is a business there is every chance I will spontaneously combust. Record attendances went to gaze at Stanley Matthews, Bobby Moore and Pele before live football was televised and they would again. Rant over.

So we have established that relegation is essential and stadiums named after Burger King are definitely not.  We have also established there are many impressive players in Major League Soccer but that is not to say there are some astonishingly bad ones as well. In particular some of the defending I have witnessed has been nothing short of horrific. None more so than from my own adopted team Toronto FC who seem incapable of not going a goal behind within 4 minutes of kicking off. I have managed to gather some TFC stats that make interesting reading:

  • Toronto FC have conceded the most first half goals of any team in MLS (22)
  • Toronto FC have conceded the most second half goals of any team in MLS (27)

The good news is Toronto FC have yet to concede during the half time break. Don’t get me wrong I’m not moaning, this is just the sort of adversity I have signed up to MLS for. Hopefully the Reds will do the business against Columbus Crew at the appropriately named ‘Crew Stadium’ on Saturday and bring home 3 points. However if they do not it doesn’t really matter, as play-offs are out of reach and we can’t get relegated.

(Alan Gordon’s 94th minute equalizer away at LA Galaxy.)



Filed under Uncategorized

33 responses to “Away Games At Pizza Hut Park- My MLS Journey Continues

  1. Andrew

    The reason for no promotion/relegation is that the leagues below mls do not have the money available to make it a success every season. For example, FC Tampa Bay are in the league below but they would not have the finances to fly to the West Coast to play LA, Chivas, Seattle etc.

    There is also no difference between Pizza Hut Park and say Emirates Stadium. Money is to be made through sponsorship and American sports teams get a lot of money from different types of sponsorship.

    • I’ll second that thought but add something to the relegation discussion. The lack of a pro/reg system in the USA and Canada is not just due to the financial difficulties of lower level leagues, its due to a shear lack of lower league clubs. The NASL and USL, the second and third tier leagues, have 8 and 11 teams respectively. The lower tiers are amateur leagues. Conversely, the Championship, League One and League Two in England have 24 teams each. Promotion/Relegation is a nice idea but it will be near half a century before its ever a reality in the MLS (if that).

  2. Both of those issue that you bring up have to do with one thing: money. Unlike in England and in most of the other leagues of the world, the threat of bankruptcy and the falling apart of the league is ever present in the MLS. We have a history of that with the NASL and WPS goes through that every season (how on earth can a team shut its doors after winning a title?). The MLS gets no TV coverage, no analysis, and the majority of Americans don’t even know it exists. Teams are struggling to even get sponsors, nevertheless be successful. The owners of the clubs are taking a huge risk just by being owners of an MLS team. If you add promotion/relegation into the mix, there would be no such thing as the MLS. Owners would not want to carry the burden of that much risk. It will come in due time when the league becomes more successful and able to support itself, but that’s a long ways off.

    As for names like “Pizza Hut Park,” I have to agree with you, it’s god awful, but it’s what we have to put up with. It’s no different than the Emirates, just a much lower class. Once the league gets more successful, the better named companies will hopefully want to support the league and the horrible names will disappear, but until then, it’s best to just ignore it.

  3. Brian

    First off, great article. I agree with many things you said, but don’t agree with that Europe system of demoting a team will work here in the states. With the fact that we have college sports, theres no use of a secondary league. Althought the MLS is a growing sport, he can’t compete with the other sports just yet and adding a second division wont help the cause at all. Having 18 teams and having 10 make the playoffs, if you include the wild card games, means that many teams will have a chance for making the playoffs til the end of the season. For example, Chicago only has 4 wins during the season but aren’t mathematically eliminated just yet.
    I think thats the only topic of yoru article i would have to disagree with. Other than that, brilliant.

  4. Leonardo

    great writing sir. funny and clever. unfortunately very few mls games are available in brasil, but from the highlights i see, the defending effords really seem to be quite bad, almost as laughable as the unforgivable missed chances by some strikers. i also agree that pizza hut park is a ridiculous name, but this seems to be the state of world football nowadays. i still hope the sport keep developing in the usa or anywhere else in the world.

    that said, i gotta say i have a really hard time understanding the way sports are organized in the usa. for a start, there would be no fear of bankruptcy in a case of relegation if teams weren’t seen as a business. i must say that is quite bizarre to see teams being referred to as ‘franchises’ and cities as ‘markets’. it sounds as if owners are trying to sell hamburgers or something.

    in south america (as in europe) team are century old sports clubs that are rooted in the city or neighborhood culture. they are not moving anywhere and profits are secondary to winning titles. in those circumstances, people won’t ever stop supporting their heart clubs if the team is relegated to second, third or fourth division. one will always love the team one grew up watching games with one’s father and grandfather.

    that’s why i find college sports in the US better than professional leagues. it’s organic. a college team is not a ‘franchise’ and don’t think of it’s city as a ‘market’, therefore they keep existing for 100+ years and are rooted in the city’s culture. if a team has a small support group, it should have a small stadium, not be relocated to another ‘market’.

    anyway, north-americans are weird. cheers from brasil.

    • Joe

      Leonardo, to address your point on the differences between MLS teams and pro teams in S American and Europe. You answered your own question by stating that SA and European teams are 100+ years old. MLS teams are barely 15 years old, some only 2 or 3 years old. There hasn’t been enough time to develop that neighborhood culture. If you were too look at the NFL or MLB you will see similar culture to SA and European football. The Yankees will never lose fans. If you live in NY or are from that area, you are a supporter of the Yankees for life. Your point about college sports is spot on, but until MLS has time to grow and be nutured and the neighborhoods and generations have time to build that relationship with their local club, then it will happen. But it will take time, alot of time. In the mean time the league has too do what it can to bring in revenue and keep the revenue there, until the clubs become ingrained in the fans lifestyle.

  5. Relegation’s a great idea for some drama at the bottom of the table, but I’m afraid there are sooooooo many American sports, it would be tough to get the support to have enough teams to pull off several lower divisions. Just the infrastructure of stadiums, travel and the attention of fans fragmented between so many different sports.

    London has what…14 “football” teams? While here New York has just one MLS team, it’s also competing for attention in the New York metro area with 3 hockey teams, 2 NFL, 2 NBA and 2 MLB teams.

    (Also, I’ve got a blog and would love to figure out how to change the little icon up on the browser tab…the “favicon” I think it’s called – from the default WordPress “W”. I see you and I have the same WordPress theme so you must know how…)

  6. jc

    Question Jimmy……..

    If you were doing this blog in Italy, regarding the sporting culture there, would you be placing in bold letters the heading “FOOTBALL NOT CALCIO” at the very top of the page?

    Would you?

    • Hi JC,
      My blog certainly isn’t meant to mock or disparage the sporting culture of America. If you read from my first post I declare myself a snob when it comes to football. I do take issue with the Americanization (for want of a better word) of the sport and that is one of the reasons I have chosen to learn more about MLS. I hope you will take it with a pinch of salt however as although I believe I touch on real issues that affect Major League Soccer it is supposed to be slightly tongue in cheek at the same time. I think if you read the blog from post one the “Football Not Soccer” title will make more sense to you. Thanks for reading. Jimmy Stone

  7. jc

    It might surprise you to know, but many Americans also take issue with the “Americanization” of the sport – and not just Eurosnob Americans, either. But we probably differ in what, exactly, we take umbrage at even still. We all pretty well collectively winced at the things MLS tried to institute in its early years to (mistakenly) appeal to the American fan, but we don’t take issue (with exception of the aforementioned Eurosnobs, who don’t seem to know that Europe also some of the same setups they complain about with MLS because they only watch the EPL and have no real idea) with some of the things you see as “Americanization” not merely because they’re what we’re accustomed to, but because they make the most sense for us (more on that later).

    In that regard, “Americanization” is really not unique. Everywhere the sport has landed, it’s been synthesized in some way within its new cultural realm. This is what makes it beautiful. This is what makes it the world’s game. It’s a grand experiment, and toying with the basic rules is where I think the line is for me taking issue. Any structure beyond that really isn’t essential to the game itself, and we shouldn’t get so caught up in that that we can’t enjoy the game in whatever format it’s played.

    But you’re free to mock and disparage the sporting culture of America all you like. We do, whether invalid or otherwise, and there’s always room for more. (And yes I should’ve read more of your blog, that way I’d have understood you weren’t a transplant here, as I had it in my mind.) My issue there was your swipe at the legitimacy of the term we use, and my (probably correct) assumption that you wouldn’t have directed your lexical supremacy in that manner to the Italians. And they don’t even have the Brits to blame for that, as we do.

  8. DichioTFC

    Love the blog. The issue is more with getting the casual fans interested. It would be similar to starting a baseball league in England – how do you get the kids interested and take them away from their traditional main sport? That’s why we get ridiculous names like Pizza Hut Park, but its necessary to capture the kids’ attention. There are so many sports to follow in the US, but hopefully, as soccer grows, it will return to its more traditional roots that the purists can enjoy.

    Sidenote: I’m a fellow TFC supporter. I encourage you and any other adopted TFC supporters to visit the three main supporter groups and their forums: Red Patch Boys –, U-Sector – and North End Elite –

  9. Yohan

    Welcome to your MLS journey, where you’ll rend your hair out and kick your tv in disgust, with occasional ‘holy shit that was an awesome goal or save’.

    Not sure if you had a look at a list of former TFC alumni but there’s a lot of ‘famous’ names there. They just happen to not work out for TFC. I hope you’ll make a trip to Toronto one of these days.

  10. It’s been a while since I’ve burst out laughing so many times while reading an article.

    Your posts may just get me through this season afterall.

  11. TFCRegina

    Yeah, another interesting stat is how many players have played at least part of a competitive match for TFC in 5 years. It has to be somewhere around 100 by this point.

  12. The Doctor

    Yeah, you need to realize promotion and relegation will never work in America, it’s all a business and about making money. We have had several leagues fold and in 2002 the MLS was dangerously close. How close? Well, you will never believe this be the league was down to 10 and 3 owners. Yes, that’s right one owner owned for teams and the other owner owned three teams. There is still an owner who owns two of the leagues. You may think this was a conflict of interest but if it didn’t happen the league would have folded by now and their would be no divsion one soccer league at all. See we don’t have the 100’s of year of tradition that south Americans and Europeans have where fans show up every game. If you look at the team in New England, they play in an 80,000 seat American football stadium and fill it up with 9,000 10,000 people. All American sports are a business and you have to understand that if you ever want to understand MLS. Thats the same reason the Glazers bought Man U, Henry, and Hicks and Gillet bought Liverpool and Lerner bought Villa. They’re not interested in the tradition of the franchises and its history they are all about the marketability ad making those clubs global brands. The one thing that you bring up strongly is promotion relegation, the second tier of American soccer has only 8 teams and one of them is going to MLS next year. Of the teams left no team draws more than 3,000 fans per game. Plus, in the past 2-3 years you have had New York finish last and LA finish last. You’re telling me Theirry Henry and David Beckham came here to play in the second divison of America? The two biggest teams in MLS get demoted playing in state college and terrible stadiums that only fit 2,000 people that are American college football fields to begin with? Plus you’re forgetting MLS has a salary cap. Europeans see these people big names come over and think that the league has all this money it does not. The salary cap is 2.5-3.5 million, each team gets three salary cap exemptions and recently just added a fourth only for people under 23. The players with exemptions can be paid any amount salary, say 5$ million for Beckham or $4 million for Henry and the exemption allows for ti to only count as $350,000 against the cap. Most MLS players get paid very little the average I believe is around $70,000, with rookies making the league minimum of $ 40,000. You’ll be hard pressed to find many divison one leagues with salaries that low. There is not alot of money coming through TV money and sponorships to pay the average player more generously. Plus, the big point you’re missing is while the promotion and relegation is European and has been around for centuries, I think it lacks excitment. Sure if you have relegation it makes things interesting for teams at the bottom of the table they have to fight to survive but playoffs give you something that promotion relgation doesn’t have and that is parody. England has had only four teams win the EPL since it’s existence and two teams have dominated for the past seven years. You never give the little a guy a chance. There’s nothing we love in America than the underdog and when you have playoffs you give the underdog like say you have in eight team playoff, you would have teams like Fulham, Aston Villa, Everton a chance to upset some of the big name teams and have a shot at the title. For those teams, there really is no point to the season in the EPL because they have no shot at the tile from the beginning of the year. They’re not gonna have to deal with relegation and the whole year is mid table purgatory with nowhere to go as they have no chance of glory. Thats why the EPL has to adapt a playoff system so teams like Fulham, Everton, even a Stoke City have a shot at the title for once instead of living in midtable puragtory, with one of there best player excels, they get sold off to a bigger club, becuase that club from the offseason has no chance at the title. Promtion and relegation would be terrible for MLS beacause MLS has parody and it is the only league if not only on of a few leagues where every team has a chance to win the championship, and thats the greatest thing about it. One team can go from last place on year to contend for the championship the next year, MLS fans always have something to look forward to unlike you’re team Swansea City, who unfortunately will be back down in the coca cola after one year on the top, probably. Wouldn’t you like them to compete for the EPL crown, wouldn’t you like to see that for once in you’re life? Because with promotion relegation there is little to no chance for the underdog, you don’t give your team a chance to keep players and build through the youth system, and buy new ones to give you a shot year in and year out.

    • SoundersShield

      Haha…it’s spelled “parity.”

      “…playoffs give you something that promotion relgation doesn’t have and that is parody.” That reads a little differently than you intended.

    • Leonardo

      what a mess you’re making doctor. first, a promotion/relegation system has nothing to do with a playoffs format of competition. in brasil playoffs are also a tradition and the brazilian league only adopted the european format (in which the team with most points is declared champion, without eliminatory games) in 2003, but our state and national leagues have always operated in a promotion/relegation system between their many divisions, in opposition to the major league/minor league system usually adopted in the usa.

      secondly, few teams having chances to be champion has something to do with the playoff form of competition, but nothing to do with promotion/relegation between divisions. the most important factor to competitiveness between teams (everyone having equal chances to win) is financial parity between the clubs. in the usa this is guaranteed by the salary cap. in brasil there’s no such thing, but since the new format of competition was adopted in 2003, there were 6 different champions in 8 years, because there is a relative financial parity between 1st division teams, since the tv rating are divided equally and clubs can’t be sold to some billionaire as they are membership based non-profit organizations.

      i’m not saying the brazilian system is better than any other, since most of our great/good players are sold to rich european teams, our stadiums are old and not always full of supporters and our team are constantly in serious debt. i’m just trying to put things where they belong.

  13. pugetsounder

    Nothing to play for for teams eliminated from the playoffs? How is that different than in a relegation system where the season can be won before the last game is even played? In a relegation system, the middle teams have no drama near season’s end. In MLS, it just happens to the lower teams, otherwise, same story as EPL etc. Playoffs on the other hand force the drama to culminate at the exact end of the season.

  14. For anyone who is from Europe, one area that has real passion is Cascadia (Vancouver, Seattle, Portland from N-S). A rivalry from the 1970s that continued from the NASL through the second division and now back on top. The Sounders have the best average attendances of MLS teams (with a stadium designed for both American football and soccer, although the FieldTurf MUST be replaced soon) and have great support and play soccer with a certain flair to it. With a deep roster playing in 3 competitions at once right now (MLS, CONCACAF Champions League, U.S. Open Cup), they are exciting to watch. Just see the highlights of their 6-2 thumping of East-leading Columbus Crew (who have never won against the Sounders and their former coach, Sigi Schmid). Vancouver may be bottom-feeders, but they still have great support, as does Portland, who sit on the border of the play-off race. The Sounders don’t have much of a real forward, but the midfield is scoring goals (including a hat-trick from left winger Lamar Neagle in that 6-2 victory) and we’ve had some tough times (the injury of Steve Zakuani, our starting left winger and ex-Arsenal Academy man; injury to newly-acquired O’Brian White, and more), but we’ve found some diamonds in the rough (such as the extremely under-paid Mauro Rosales, potential captain after Kasey Keller retires at the end of the season). Thought you should look into that since Toronto doesn’t play against Seattle until 2012 [possibly].

    • Kejsare

      I echo the sentiment on keeping tabs of the soccer fervor in the Pacific Northwest.

      Supporters groups in MLS are a mix of everything, Latin flair with trumpets, drum corps, and any flavor of European and Latin American spice we can add.

  15. Hope to see you up in Seattle next year! I look forward to following this until at least then 😛

  16. Kejsare

    American dropping by with another stat.

    Between 2001-2010, there was no continuity between the teams in United Soccer League (USL, division 2) from one season to the next. Meaning that there was anywhere from 15 to 8 teams in any given year and the names and places of teams changed. I think only 4 teams stuck around for all 10 years (Rochester, Montreal (2012 MLS), Portland (2011 MLS), Vancouver (2011 MLS), and Seattle was there for 8).

    One team dropped out of existence weeks before the first match, several had to be propped up with cash mid-season by the league (AC St Louis most recently), one team won division 3, decided to go up to division 2 and because of travel costs went bankrupt the next season (Cleveland). Best of all was after the 2009 season there was a bitter break-up of the league that had to have the USSF mediate the scuffle because Umbro purchased the league, then Nike bought Umbro, then Nike wanted to offload USL but sold it to Traffic. A group of owners rebelled and created the new NASL which now occupies division 2, and USL dropped down to division 3.

    The Portland Timbers were saved from the disaster that could of happened by joining MLS in 2009. If not for MLS, the nearest two teams in division 2 would be Edmonton, Alberta, and Minneapolis, Minnesota!!! Talk about hellish travel expenses.

    There simply is no stable soccer pyramid in North America to institute promotion/relegation. Closest thing to a viable minor leagues in baseball, but all salaries for every minor league team is paid by the Major League team, thus minor league teams can survive.

    I describe all of this as to educate you. I understand you have a background with principles you believe belong in the game of football, but the same principles do not apply in North America.


  17. pdublu

    American soccer is not club football. The game is similar but the culture could not be more different and it will remain so.

    American soccer teams have taken on some of the superficial trappings of club football. They tack “FC” on the team name–or they outright call themselves “Real,” “United” or “Dynamo.” They have supporter’s groups (not fan clubs). Perhaps this a ghost of colonialism. Perhaps it’s plain old research-driven marketing, an appeal to domestic fans of the world game, or charitable European ex-pats.

    There are no club dynasties in the USA and Canada but there is money to be made for lots of parties, even with a relatively small share of the American overstuffed pro sports pie. Thus, Pizza Hut Park. Thus, no MLS relegation, ever. And there will always be a playoff.

    Americans do futbol, as Leonardo so aptly put it, in their own weird way. That is a fact.

    I look forward to reading your observations on the unique aspects of North American soccer strategies and tactics.

  18. diego pasley

    Very interesting read! Have your site bookmarked. Welcome to the MLS. You ever want to come to a match in Kansas City look me up and I will help make your trip a good one.

  19. Eric

    This has been an enjoyable read — I look forward to more.

    I think one point of the promotion/relegation discussion as it pertains to the U.S. sporting landscape is that to get a team costs a lot of money. The next new team is expected to pay between $75 and $100 million just for the right to get into the league — that doesn’t include a stadium, payroll, etc. Owners don’t want to spend that kind of money if they know there’s a chance they will be relegated. Consider this: MLS only in the past few years have received money to have their games on TV – before that, they paid to have the matches shown. The U.S. second division doesn’t have a TV deal this season; the third division has one game on per week. Also, remember that only in the past couple years have a few teams started to make profits in MLS; for the vast majority of the league’s time, owners have taken multi-million dollar losses each season,

    For the record, I am a supporter of promotion/relegation, but I understand why it wouldn’t work here right now. I am hopeful in the future it can be done, and the silly playoff system and All-Star Game will be scrapped. The league and many owners very much want these things to try to connect to the average American sports fan.

  20. Jared

    On the ‘name of stadium’ topic…

    Sporting Kansas City have actually reversed the model. They are paying Livestrong $7.5 million to promote cancer research and awareness. Check it out at

  21. Just a small thought to throw out there. Most fans don’t like the names of these new stadiums and have adopted nicknames for them instead. However, you never hear them while watching a game because money dictates that the stadiums always be referred to by their commercialized titles. It might help to adopt these nicknames in your blog, and help out those of us who want to ignore the shameless advertising forever etched into our beloved stadiums. As an example, Victoria Street instead of The Home Depot Center is quite nice, isn’t it?

  22. Excellent first 3 articles. It’s rare I find myself agreeing with something almost entirely, but I have done it here. I arrived in Toronto from the UK three years ago and instantly sign up as a TFC fan and regularly attend games. A lot of your observations are things I myself have noticed over those years.

    The promotion/relegation thing is something I’ve harped on about a few times and must do again soon. The MLS is an 18 team league. They are pushing for 20 in the coming few years. Now it would do no harm to split the league in half and have a first division and a second division with promotion and relegation. Even as a TFC fan who would surely have seen his team relegated by now had this always been in place, I would like to see it. Too often since I have been going, TFC have dropped out of title contention early and playoff hopes not long after meaning many games from mid-July onwards have been all but meaningless. I wouldn’t mind a relegation dog fight.

    Anyway, keep up the good work. I shall stick your link on my TFC blog.


  23. Joe

    Imagine the history that could be built if all the boroughs in New York City had their own team. ie, Brooklyn Italians, Bronx Bombers FC, Manhattan City, Queens Rangers, etc. All playing in small 20K seat stadiums…Look at Fulham and Chelsea they are literally 2 miles from each other. I have a dream that one day, Football (soccer – the word, was created in England) will be king in America.

  24. Mile-Hi

    “It is no longer the players that make Major League Soccer frustrating to watch; it is the rule makers.”

    – well put! iv been saying that for the last few years.. the whole promotion/relegation is one of the bigger changes that I hope we have done in 10-15 years but we hope for smaller changes until then to slowly de-centralize the league.

  25. It’s not often I agree with almost every word of a blog but so far I’ve gone 3 for 3 with yours. Really enjoyable read, keep it up and glad to have another TFC fan onboard.

    I can relate to your journey. I came from the UK to live in Toronto 3 years ago and jumped on TFC as a new team to support and have loved it so far even if success hasn’t been forthcoming.

    I fully endorse the idea of promotion and relegation even if Toronto might have been victoms to relegation over the past half decade at some point. No doubt about it, by July with Toronto long out of the title race and with dying hopes of a playoff position, the remainder of the games have little to them other than pride. It would be nice to be forced to the edge of the seat a little more often with a trapdoor looming.

    The team will be at 20 teams before too long now. I would prefer to see it split in two with a top division and a second division with that promotion and relegation. Would only add to it.

  26. Leo

    Interesting blog. I am a former “futbol” snob who has become a MLS season ticket holder.
    Looking forward for the next post…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s