RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition. He does have an amazing PATREON, but also *normal* ARTIST WEBSITE too.

Sunday, August 16

14-Man Micro-Metaphysical Roster: TORONTO FC

{Victor Vazquez locking up the 2017 MLS Cup, with flares}

[14-Man Micro-Metaphysical Roster is a football metaphysics methodology calculating minutes played per the last 50 competitive matches for a North American football club, weighting that shit more heavily for most recent matches, and using them calculations to list the 14 players constituting the strongest psychic force on a club’s current path. This is done at Football Metaphysics Space twice a month for the Premier League clubs in England, and now I’m doing it for the top clubs in North America, two per month. Pay me for my emotionless labor paypal.me/dirtgod or venmo @ravenmack23]

It’s hard to get up for writing about MLS clubs, because I associate it with horrible American soccer philosophies, pyramids, and “big fish in little pond” hierarchies that create the illusion of world relevance to upper middle class marks who want so desperately to justify their mental fellatio of Christian Pulisic (or Landon Donovan, or whoever the current “world class American striker” en vogue is). But I forgot that MLS actually includes a handful of Canadian clubs as well, which helps establish precedent for the eventual combination Mexican/American “super” league I’m hoping happens before 2026, partially to humiliate and humble US soccer fans, but also to unwittingly drag the quality of the football in the nation I was fucking born in with no choice to a higher level. Toronto FC has always been the gem in Canada’s football club cap, and in fact has been one of the better clubs in recent MLS history as well. They also caused a little stir in the MLS is Back shit, because Canada’s handling of the pandemic has been so entirely different than the USA’s, that it caused MLS to have to meet Toronto’s standards. And the dystopian standards of football now, either held in bubbled facilities deemed covid-free, or in empty stadiums with crowd sounds pumped in and either screens or cutouts replicating humans filling the empty seats, I don’t know man, it’s all fucking with me. America is not controlled by the world’s football bread and circus yet, and if they cancel concussion ball (which seems imminent), I’m not sure the digital political propaganda machine is strong enough to hold everything together. Thus, even though I look at MLS clubs disdainfully, I also look at Toronto FC with the contemplation of fleeing this sinking ship of a nation-state, and heading north. We are all fucked right now, but there’s football on the tiny screens…

#1: ALEJANDRO POZUELO – A former Swan for my beloved Swansea City, brought on for the season they played in the Europa League after winning the League Cup the previous season. That was his one and only season with the Swans, and he ended up spending a handful of seasons in Belgium, being a key component for Genk. There's a certain hierarchy of footballing excellence that's sort of having a little sleight of hand here with a Spaniard midfielder coming to Toronto on one of their designated player contracts. You'd think a Spaniard would be top-notch, but we're talking about a guy who made his most recent time in Belgium, not Spain, so he's not upper echelon globally. However, there's something fittingly appropriate about a guy who once played for a Welsh club in the English Premier League who joins up with a Canadian club that excels in the American soccer pyramid's top league.

#2: MARKY DELGADO – Delgado was a homegrown talent for Chivas USA, but came to Toronto FC when Chivas USA folded at the end of the 2014 season. Pushing close to 200 MLS matches, and is only 25. Also went to the notorious IMG Soccer Academy as a kid, which is the pinnacle of US youth soccer prestige status, but also not all that great internationally. A lot of the American soccer structure needs to be dismantled for this nation to get to a higher international status, but it's also one where big fish in small pond syndrome reigns supreme, from coaches to high profile players, so that the cartel of Bruce Arenas, Bob Bradley, and Landon Donovans wouldn't want to disrupt that. Shit man, even Alexi Lalas's dumbass being the TV pundit of note for American soccer contributes to that delusional system that will never be more than a regional threat at best. We need more drug money in US soccer, in my opinion.

#3: QUENTIN WESTBERG – French-American GK, born and bred in France, to an American pops and French-Canadian Ma Dukes. Even spent a couple tween years in Paris Saint-Germain youth academy. Played entirely in France as a professional, for over a dozen years, before coming to Toronto in February of last year, after having drifted from Ligue 1 to Ligue 2 status. Quentin Westberg is about as perfect an MLS GK name as you could possibly come up with, too. I imagine he'll be here until he dies, which - luckily for him - he's in Canada, not America, so he'll live longer.

#4: MICHAEL BRADLEY – Michael Bradley once played sparingly in top European leagues, which is the pinnacle of American football success. He is of course a made man in the US Soccer Illuminati, being the son of Bob “The Builder” Bradley, and likely ordained to follow in his father’s footsteps of having an overhyped managerial reputation in this country, as a big fish in a small pond. He’s probably a few more years away from his player-coach transitional period, which will likely come in the 2026 World Cup qualifying cycle. Perhaps we’ll see Bradley as an assistant on that national team squad, or taking over somewhere in the MLS to help develop talent in this lackluster league levels below even top South American standards. At this point, Bradley is older, so his role has shifted from talented in his prime midfielding presence to a sort of punisher who has as much ego as actual muscle. Were he not from an ordained American soccer family, he’d have a lot more yellow (and red) cards accumulated the past couple seasons. As it stands, he can bruise and batter people and yell at refs and intimidate everyone into acquiescence to Toronto FC’s favor as a very valid investment on their part. Sometimes it’s not the actual goals on the scoreboard you’re paying for.

#5: CHRIS MAVINGA – The offspring of immigrants in the suburban ghettos of Paris, born to an Angolan mother and Congolese father. His international allegiance was as a Frenchman as a youth, but he switched to DR Congo as a senior level player, where the competition wasn't as thick. High profile youth player, who spent time in both the Paris Saint-Germain youth academy as well as Liverpool, and even was contracted to Liverpool when he first turned pro. Spent a few years playing for Rubin Kazan in Russia, and I cannot imagine the torture that must have been, although he appeared sparingly, mostly being loaned back to French clubs, before finally making the jump to North America in January of 2017. Hard to imagine an African heritage kid from French slums playing for an American club so easily, so it's interesting to contemplate the metaphysical differences that Toronto FC actually brings to the MLS, which helps to contribute to their ability to be successful.

#6: AURO JR. – Auro Jr. is such an amazing name, and I’m assuming even the Portuguese, this means this Brazilian defender is the son of gold. He turned down offers to play in Portugal and Spain to join Toronto in 2018, and while that seems suspect, I can’t really fault it, because he’s staying on this side of the Earth, closer to his Sao Paulo roots, and probably making pretty good money in Toronto still. He’s become an anchor at right back to Toronto’s defense, and is certainly good enough more European offers will come again. Really, the question is whether spending two formative years in his early to mid-20s in MLS stunted his raw development for the more refined use of human resources football seen in Europe. But to be honest, I’ve just been watching a lot of Kim’s Convenience in the background the past couple months, so whoever the fuck from all corners of the globe can play in Toronto only contributes to this false notion in my head of maybe one day getting comedically chastised by Appa for scratching off my lottery tickets on the counter.

#7: JUSTIN MORROW – #2 in your program, but hopefully #1 in your heart, because Morrow is the player who sort of initiated, beginning in an Instagram group message, the Black Players for Change during the MLS is Back tournament. During the moment of kneeling done on-pitch during the opening of matches, as has been done worldwide, Morrow, and other black players wore shirts saying "SILENCE IS VIOLENCE" or "BLACK ALL THE TIME" or "BLACK AND PROUD" and stood on the sidelines with their fists raised. What began as something to do when the tournament kicked off has turned into a group with over 70 members that is outlining new missions to change the black players' experiences in American soccer. That's actually tremendously huge, because at most youth levels, non-white kids can afford to excel up until the teen years, when top players are whisked off into travel clubs or academies with high pricetags, as US soccer is more of a business endeavor than actual meritocracy. This is what allows guys like Landon Donovan to be "the best ever" - the filtering out of the classes that can't afford it. Racism being systemic, obviously affects all aspects of life on this continent, and I love the idea of current MLS players shining a light on this, and forcing pressure behind the scenes, in what's been a very white-dominated culture in this country.

#8: OMAR GONZALES – Texas-born and raised defender, who did the normal American soccer wonderkid shit of going to IMG Soccer Academy in Florida, and playing at a high profile NCAA team - Maryland for Gonzalez. But one thing that honed Gonzalez's game as a defender that most of his MLS contemporaries cannot say is he spent three years in Mexico playing in Liga MX's rough-and-tumble world. Gonzalez is 31, but if we get to a point before 2026 where MLS and Liga MX combine into a multi-tier system (which I'm hoping, and in fact the entire point of these CONCACAF micro-metaphysical write-ups is to manifest that energy), clubs north of the Rio Grande are gonna have to have dudes like this who understand the differences. Unless of course we get a bunch of soft ass referees in the new league that don't let people beat on each other, as is the tradition on this half of the Earth south of the Rio Grande.

#9: JONATHAN OSORIO – Straight up native Canadian, even native Torontoan, which means he's a homegrown player. Has some Uruguayan roots, and played for a few years as a youth for Nacional in Montevideo, but upon returning home, landed on SC Toronto, a second tier Canadian club in the city. He was quickly invited to the Toronto FC Academy, and began training with the first team during preseason of the 2013 season. His on-pitch time during matches has waxed and waned over the past few seasons, but he has remained a presence on the club, even being involved heavily in the MLS final in 2019. It's definitely neat, even in Major League Soccer, to have a dude who is from the actual city who has come up through the club the past half decade, and have deeper roots than most.

#10: RICHIE LARYEA – Another Toronto born and bred player, who did cross the border to play collegiately at the well-known Akron Zips program. Afterwards, the MLS draft landed him in Orlando City for a couple seasons, but he moved to Toronto in March of 2019, and scored his first MLS goal in May of last year, against the San Jose Earthquakes. He's played for the Canadian national team at the senior level as well.

#11: TSUBASA ENDOH – There is a prominent sumo rikishi named Endo, and it is literally impossible for me not to make the joke from Friday about that name, where Craig tells Smoky, “Indo? Smell more like outdo’.” So you should insert that same tired joke here as well. Endoh the Japanese striker was born in Tokyo, and trained as a youth in the Japanese Football Association’s Fukushima Academy. Whether he acquired super human powers or not indirectly from the reactor meltdown in Fukushima was unknown, but the Maryland Terrapins college soccer team, which has a research relationship with a number of Japanese organizations, took in Endoh on scholarship, which led to him being a high draft pick by Toronto FC in 2016. He’s played professional entirely for Toronto FC, and even though already 26, is just now developing into a regular in their rotation. It’s an interesting case study in the stunted development that happens in American soccer by spending up to four years in college, pretending to be a regular student, in combination with nuclear exposure affecting later in career recuperative abilities. If Endoh is leading the MLS in goals at age 35, expect more super human kaiju wingers to start arriving from Japan and the Ukraine. A Chernobyl Zone Youth Academy won’t be far behind that, where the kids are fed meals lovingly prepared by drunken babushkas who refused to leave.

#12: JOZY ALTIDORE – I kinda love Jozy Altidore to be honest, because he’s embraced that big fish in small pond role of American striker with way less ego than others. Jozy’s actually played in the Premier League, and even scored two goals there – once for Sunderland in 2013, and his first for Hull City over a decade ago, in February of 2010. Neither of those clubs are still in the Premier League, nor is Jozy. But two goals in Premier League competition means he’s tied for tenth best all-time for American goal scorers in the PL. One person he’s tied with, who only scored two goals there, is Landon Donovan, who carries himself the exact opposite of Jozy Altidore, acting as if he’s far better than he really is. A big fish in a small pond who decides to be a bully gets no respect from me, because they are refusing to accept the obvious benefits of their small pond existence. Jozy seems much more equipped to humbly accept his status as minor blip on the global stage but wonderful presence in the lower levels of North American football. Granted, Jozy is way behind Landon on the MLS all-time scoring list, Altidore’s long period with Toronto FC has been part of a more balanced team-driven approach than putting a superstar out front and hoping they outscore the other side enough matches to make the playoffs. Altidore’s not that old, about to turn 31 in November, but his minutes are declining. Even so, he still seems to do okay in that late minute role filling in, or being in the starting XI whenever needed by his club. And I think the difference between a guy like Altidore and more-lame ass American presences like Donovan or teammate Michael Bradley is cultural. Altidore was the kid of Haitian immigrants, who grew up in Jersey and South Florida. There’s a hunger that drives many types in different ways than those from more comfortable backgrounds, and the memories of that hunger being literal also contributes to a better sense of humility.

#13: NICK DELEON – I had the pleasure of managing Nick DeLeon for over a thousand matches in various string theory applications of Football Manager 2015, where I actually won the Club World Cup with DC United a number of times. DeLeon was always a selfless midfielder, and even when I had my roster stockpiled with international superstars, so long as I remembered to apply the right amount of magic sponge to his personality, he was always ready and willing to pop out in US Open Cup matches and contribute. No competition is unimportant to me in digital world, not when I can keep applying magic sponges endlessly.

#14: LAURENT CIMAN – Belgian boy in the twilight of his career, playing defender for Toronto FC since December of 2018. has played for both the Montreal Impact and LA FC in MLS before, and in fact spent a number of seasons in Montreal. Also spent close to a decade for top clubs Club Brugge and Standard Liege in his native Belgium. This is probably not a popular opinion, but Belgium has one of the top national team kit histories in recent years. I'd wear the fuck outta that ugly ass shit.

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