“Speak the truth, but not to punish.” Thich Nhat Hanh
When you are a boy living in North London and you support Spurs and the Arsenal fans are constantly taunting you, you learn the word “Spursy”. It refers to the fact that the team is bound to disappoint you in all kinds of surprising ways.
Finish fourth, but watch sixth place Chelsea steal the Champions League spot from you by beating Bayern Munich on penalties in Munich. Stay in contention for the title with a great squad of young guns, and then inexplicably end up third, behind Leicester and – for fuck’s sake – ARSENAL. Spursy. It’s almost a mark of pride.
So yesterday as I watched twitter and listened to Bob Lenarduzzi on the radio, the word that came to mind to describe the Espindola situation was “Capsy”. It is not a mark of pride. It seems that these kinds of things only happen to us. Our front office has set a number of firsts in recent years, that even by the standards of MLS, begger belief.
Camilo transferring himself to Queretaro while still under contract is the gold standard. The inhumane trade of Alain Rochat, the purchase of MLS’ first African DP who scored no goals for us and was bought out after eight games. Nigel Reo-Coker colliding with a bike rake, banished to press box to teach sign language to his friends, before being sold. Andre Lewis drafted despite being signed to an NASL contract with New York Cosmos. Victor Blasco, a promising young Spanish midfielder who was completely rendered persona non grata for some (ED – publically unknown, but valid) reason and banished to Vancouver Island.
We’ve had Voyageurs Cup curses. We’ve had playoff collapses. We even appointed a senior executive who, ever since coming to the team, was left to battle a series of lawsuits about his alleged conduct at residential schools decades ago.
And now we buy another team’s DP striker who, it turns out, isn’t interested in playing for us, so we sell him to Mexican side Necaxa and the FO walks away rubbing it’s hands and crowing about a tidy piece of business.
Honestly, what happens behind the scenes down on Water Street is so bizarre that it would be impossible to create a bingo card to even turn it into a decent drinking game. It’s all a bit “Capsy”. Other teams may have their problems and amusements, but is there anyone that comes close to the way we do it?
Here we sit with two thirds of the season gone, the Voyageurs Cup snatched from our hands (or dropped, perhaps more accurately), reasonably content in sixth place courtesy of a few rival meltdowns. We are about to begin a CCL campaign with a President in place who just gave an interview saying that the only trophy that really matters is the MLS Cup. That is also the only trophy you have a chance to win by being mediocre on the field. In theory you could finish 12th overall and win the damn thing and have everyone crow about you as the defending MLS champion.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see us win an MLS Cup. In fact it is probably the trophy that most suits us given that we are fully capable of putting together a giant killing two months of football, meanwhile finding ways to self-sabotage a season’s worth of games. But what I really want week after week, is to stand behind my team and watch them give their all in every match. Is that too much to ask for? We haven’t been seeing that #OurAllOurHonour hashtag recently. I expect it of the players, the coaches and the management.
It’s the supporter’s perogative to point fingers and figure out causes with no information whatsoever. But a comment last night on twitter, at the end of a long conversation, kind of summed it all up for me. We’ve changed players, managers, and coaching staff numerous times in the past five years. The only thing with any relative degree of stability is the front office. And the only other constant is this “Capsy” character of things.
I am often derisively accused of having a sunny disposition and a positive outlook. I think people simply misinterpret my enjoyment of standing in the Southside and singing for our players for unbridled optimism. I probably do give the benefit of the doubt more often than not. I don’t spend my money and time trying to give myself an ulcer. I have work for that.
So I give the players a lot of latitude. You have to basically not give a fuck as a player to lose my respect for you. Jordan Smith and Darren Mattocks know what I’m talking about. I give our coach more latitude than some of my fellow flock mates in the Pigeon Loft. But I can say that almost unanimously, I don’t know anyone that stands around us that loves what the front office is doing.
I hear Lenarduzzi talk on the radio once a year or so and he sounds like he gets his strategic advice from the mirror. Other teams’ executives are engaged, they know how to bend the rules. They are wily in acquiring talent. They understand the nature of the league. They have contracts with broadcasters that start televising matches at kickoff. They are pro-active about making changes that suit them. They bully the league for what they want. They make other teams angry at them.
What do we get from our front office? An on air admission that to sign a top player commanding more that $4 million we would need to make a business case to the owners beyond his performance on the field. Our front office are first and foremost a business management team working with on and off-field products to generate revenues applicable to the local market.
The on field performance is simply one of the things to be factored in. We are a C+ team and could be a bit better. But is this front office interested in us becoming an A+ team, or are they content to balance mostly adequate performance on the field with a decent financial return? Is it possible to become a dominant force in this league AND make money? Because if winning everything causes you to lose on the balance sheet, then we know what the real results table should be.
Look, we all want the team to do well financially. It’s not my capital that they are responsible for. But my challenge to the front office and the owners is to find a way to achieve that off-field goal by tying it to on-field results. If the leagues rules are too constrained in that respect, lobby to have them increase the prize money for the Supporter’s Shield. If you make it ultra profitable for teams to perform well every week and win things then the league as a whole will do better. Find a way to bootstrap that virtuous cycle.
We do not come to cheer on the business case. I am not there singing “Does Seattle have some cash? doo da, doo da, Does Seattle have some cash? doo da, doo da, Does Seattle have some cash? WE HAVE GOT A MASSIVE STASH! oh dee doo day day.” It says something that the Whitecaps consider it an honour to have MLS management awards but no MLS silverware.
Here’s my advice. Don’t touch those awards until you win a MLS Cup. It is not a bigger honour for a sports team to win these trophies than it is to win the trophy we are paying to see us win. It’s time to get rid of this “Capsy” character, take the bull by the horns and get serious about outcompeting everyone else in this league. It’s time for something different, maybe even someone different than the bean counters whose metrics are unrelated to on field performance. Set the bar higher than 12th. Now is the time to use the Espindola situation to make a clean break with our “Capsy’ era.
This is the time for some real leadership, and if Bob Lenarduzzi and his team are not up to it, then it’s time for the owners to find someone we can all be proud of.
The next week will be telling. Let’s see what happens.