Just when you thought this season couldn’t get any stranger, it did.
It was the waste of a night, but perhaps not if you came from the Toronto FC camp. They kept their long, now 18-game unbeaten streak in tact with another MLS victory at Stade Saputo. For those of us who turned up or watched on TV? Well, it was a couple of hours we’ll never get back!
There had been one or two stories before last night’s abstract derby game at Stade Saputo suggesting that either one or both sets of players favoured following the lead set by MLS clubs on Wednesday night, when 5 matches were postponed.
In the wake of America’s latest racist scandal, it became ever more clear after last night’s 90 minutes how much some players, particularly on one side, hadn’t wanted to play.
Toronto talisman Jozy Altidore actually did decide not to participate for ‘personal reasons’.
The match was the first MLS contest played after five games were postponed Wednesday evening, after player-led protests across the league in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting.
TFC coach Greg Vanney praised his players for the work they’ve been doing on behalf of social justice and the way they were able to get up for the match.
Thierry Henry in complete contrast appeared tetchy and agitated during the post-match press conference refusing to respond to any questions apart from those directly related to events played out on the field.
He preferred to complement Toronto for their performance...
“Toronto played a good game. They deserved to win today. They kept the ball at the beginning. Once you don’t get it back obviously you can’t impose your style. It became difficult and like I said they were better than us on the day, but we have an opportunity to rectify that on Tuesday.”
But if the narrative wasn’t yet fully apparent, it was beginning to become emphatically clear.
In TVA Sports’ pre-game show, Impact central defender Rudy Camacho had already indicated his team-mates did not want for the game to go ahead. Post-game his remarks retained the same consistency.
“We [Montreal Impact players] agreed not to play. During the day Thursday, we had a call with players from Toronto who are supposedly important to the cause and they said they wanted to play.
“We thought about it and we didn’t agree at all. We felt that no one was supporting us.”
Luis Binks didn’t raise the subject post-game but was asked about the comments attributed to team-mate, Camacho...
“No-one wanted to play, that’s true, but I don’t think we can use that as an excuse. The final decision was to play, so we played the game. We weren’t good enough. They were probably better than us and had more chances.”
The 18-year-old Englishman went on...
“There’s a lot of boys in the changing room, if not everyone, who felt that the right decision was to support what was going on and try to make a stand against what’s going on in the US.
“And we thought it would be quite powerful if two Canadian clubs, although it [the shooting] didn’t happen in Canada.... racism happens everywhere but even though what happened didn’t directly happen in Canada it would be good for us to show our support. But for whatever reason that didn’t happen and we played the game.”
Binks too alluded to previous Montreal contact with Toronto FC playing counterparts, but they had wanted one thing and the Montreal players another, with the result that the two sets of players didn’t find common ground and the game went ahead.
Certainly this was one of the worst, most passionless, derby games I personally have ever witnessed. Maybe even, THE WORST, and I’ve seen quite a few in various countries and cities down the years.
Despite the narrow margin of victory, Toronto were vastly superior, and although I wouldn’t say the Impact players went out to give less than 100%, it was still a poor show from the men in black and blue.
It had all the hallmarks of a training match in which one team possessed enough ball artists to comfortably keep possession away from a workmanlike sparring partner that wasn’t bothered enough to even get stuck in.
Whenever a team is being outplayed, especially in a derby, you expect at least a high degree of effort and some physicality to at least unsettle superior opposition, to let them know they’re in a game. Last night that didn’t happen and Toronto weren’t required to even find second gear. It was insipid stuff.
Whether that was down to circumstances brought about by world events, I’ll leave for each reader to make their own minds up.
For those who gave up their Friday night to spectate at such a boring event, whether on TV or at the stadium, I feel for you.
And to those in the 250 who paid to enter the stadium, some at higher prices than normal, it’s justifiable should you feel robbed.
Admittedly yesterday, I was one of those perplexed at the very thought of postponing last night’s game. Having now lived the experience, I wouldn’t want to do so again.
MLS needs to step up, take the lead and provide direction now. Players and teams need to be committed going into a game. It’s the least the paying public deserve. And they didn’t get that last night.