SOCCER/FUTBOL RAFA, YA ES TORO Photo of Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, during press conference of Rafael Marquez./Foto del comisionado de la Major League Soccer Don Garber, durante conferencia de Rafael Marquez. 03 August 2010 MEXSPORT/ISI PHOTOS Photo via Newscom

And now, a message from MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

"(TFC supporters) helped teach Americans how to be soccer fans, travelling, being passionate about Champions League and international games. It’s unfortunate that they haven’t been rewarded with a successful team."

Uh. Ok.

Knowing American soccer fans as I do, I cannot imagine the commissioner of Major League Soccer - a man usually so careful about his words that they generally contain nothing of interest - saying anything more offensive to his constituency. Way to piss off your customers, Don.

Don Garber's stewardship has generally been good for MLS. The league continues to grow, not only in number of teams and dedicated stadiums, but in overall interest and relevance. TV ratings are still an abomination, something I would argue is one of The Don's more pressing concerns, but attendance is good in a bad economy,  new franchises are starting in hotbed markets, and name players are signing up to come to America's league. Whether you agree with the strategy employed or not, MLS is much better off now than it was when Garber took the reigns.

But it's clear Garber is having trouble keeping up with the evolving supporters culture that has taken hold around the league. MLS has become more responsive and engaged with supporters groups in recent years not because the league pushed for change, but because the rising tide slammed them squarely in the face.  The league's didn't take a u-turn on selling to the soccer mom/family outing crowd as much as it folded in focus on passionate support.  Or, if you choose to view it more cynically, they decided it was best to give the movement lip service.

Garber's statements in Toronto put his lack of understanding on display.  Even if he believes what he said, or if there's a kernel of truth to the statement (which I'm not buying), it's inadvisable to tell the rest of your league's fans that a four year-old team "taught" anyone anything.  I'm sure Garber felt the need to speak kindly of a group of fans currently going through some dissatisfaction with their club only a month ahead of the league's showpiece event.  Garber wants butts in the seats on November 21st, and rightly so; maybe pumping up TFC's fans helps that cause as a direct challenge to their sense of superiority, and shame them into attending.

Not that any of that excuses the blatant disrespect shown everyone else.

At issue isn't the notion that TFC has very good fans who have supported their team well through their first four years, or that they've done certain things better than some others (they have); at issue is the idea that MLS fans took their cues from Toronto or followed a model originated by Toronto.  I'm struggling to refrain from being incredulous on behalf of fans of others teams, especially those that existed years before TFC fans began to give lessons.

The amount of passion fans express, manifested in the types of support mentioned by Garber, grows independently.  There are cultural cues, of course, but fans don't travel or support their teams in alternate competitions because someone else is, they do it because it's a natural result of becoming a more invested fan.  Columbus' Nordecke didn't look north before becoming what is, nor are Seattle's large and boisterous home crowds a Toronto-inspired creation.  From a top-down perspective, which Garber can't help but have, and due in part to coincidence in timing, it may appear that Toronto's strong support had something to do with the development of other fan bases around the league.

Correlation does not prove causation.

The reality is that this was a throwaway comment by a man playing to his audience.

He still shouldn't have said it.
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