Sunday night Orlando City will host Toronto FC which, for the second straight season, has splashed the cash in an attempt to win the club's first trophy. Since its foundation in 2007, Toronto FC has failed to advance to the postseason for its ravenous fan base north of the border, despite multiple spending sprees, proving that in MLS you can't buy success.
Since the club's foundation, Toronto FC has been the poster club of ineptitude. While early year woes could be blamed on building a new club from the ground up, the Reds have only reached as high as fifth in the Eastern Conference in their existence.
This lack of success certainly isn't because of a lack of money. Since its inception, the club has been owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and the NBA's Toronto Raptors. Today, MLSE is worth nearly $2 billion.
In recent years, MLSE has put great investment into the club's facilities. They recently began a major renovation of their home ground, BMO Field, in downtown Toronto, adding 7,500 seats (increasing capacity to 30,000) and building a roof over the stands, among other additions. The renovation will cost $100 million, $90 million of which will be paid by the club, plus any overruns.
In June 2012, Toronto FC moved into its new training facility, which houses both the senior team and academy. At a cost of $21 million, the facility consists of seven fields and a 36,000-square-foot building. The facility immediately became far and away the nicest training one in MLS.
While the club had money, they were not ones to compete financially with the likes of New York Red Bulls and LA Galaxy. In fact, in 2013, the year preceding their first big spending spree, the club had a total payroll of $3,681,399.86, which falls near the league average.
That all changed on June 30, 2013. On that date, Tim Leiweke joined MLSE. Leiweke had previously been President and CEO of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Galaxy and was responsible for bringing David Beckham to the United States.
Upon his arrival in Toronto, Leiweke immediately made a financial impact. During his first off-season, Toronto FC signed AS Roma and U.S. Men's National Team midfielder Michael Bradley and Tottenham Hotspur and England striker Jermain Defoe. Toronto FC was going to spend the money necessary to compete for the club's suffering but loyal fan base.
With the new signings, Toronto FC jumped to the top of the league with a base payroll of $15,609,766.50, outspending the Galaxy by over $3 million. Unfortunately, salary was the only category in which the club led the league. On the field, the Reds finished the season seventh in the Eastern Conference, missing out on the playoffs yet again.
Things only got worse as the season went on, when it was discovered that Defoe, one of the club's two key signings, was desperate to leave Canada and return to England. Following the 2014 season, Defoe returned to his native country to join Sunderland.
Not to be deterred, the Reds forged on with their plan to outspend opponents, signing Sunderland and USMNT striker Jozy Altidore and Juventus and Italy national team attacking midfielder/striker Sebastian Giovinco.
Despite the big signings, results have still proven hard to come by. Toronto FC started the season on a high note by defeating the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place, with a brace by new signing Altidore. However, they have dropped their last four matches as they head into Orlando for Sunday night's showdown.
To be fair, Toronto FC is not the only club to outspend opponents only to finish behind them in the standings. The New York Red Bulls routinely outspend their opposition, yet only lifted their first trophy when they won the 2013 Supporters Shield. But, unlike the New Yorkers, those fans in the great white north have still yet to experience a postseason.
The travails of Toronto FC display an important lesson for the Lions going forward. In an MLS where parity is closely monitored, money won't guarantee success. Future success for Orlando City will come from a strong academy producing top quality players and smart signings of non-designated players.
It's something Orlando City's front office has done well so far but must continue to do in order to achieve future triumphs.