Berding Out? No, Berding Forever
Obviously, things are not going well in FC land, and it doesn't help that The Team Up North is coming off an MLS Cup and looks well-situated to contend for a repeat. So, we've been getting a bit of a ribbing from our rival, focused on our lack of success.
But those insults remind me of an old, probably apocryphal, Winston Churchill quote. As the story goes, a woman walked up to Churchill at a party and said, "Sir, you are drunk." Churchill responded, "And you, ma'am, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning, and you will still be ugly."
Yes, The FC sucks on the field, but [First Nations] Crew are a small club. Someday, The FC will no longer suck, but the Crew will still be small.
And they know it. When they had the opportunity to build their new state-of-the-art downtown stadium, flush with $140 million or more of public funds, the Crew capped their attendance at around 20,000 fans – smaller, in fact, than their previous stadium. And they still aren't filling it.
That lack of ambition probably cost the Crew this November's World Cup Qualifier between the United States and Mexico. At the end of the day, the Crew can point fingers at us, or at US Soccer, or at anyone else. But if they want to know why they lost the game, they should just look in a mirror.
You know who else the Crew can thank for losing that "Massive" game? Jeff Berding.
Berding led the build of a stadium in Cincinnati more than 25 percent larger than lower.com Field, and then (from what I hear) he lobbied hard to bring the biggest international match of the year to Cincinnati, a city with basically no history of hosting international soccer and that did not even have a significant professional team until five years ago. And, as we all know, Jeff Berding is the guy who brought that team here in the first place.
Despite Jeff's obvious success in conjuring an MLS team in Cincinnati, building the best soccer-specific stadium in the United States, and convincing ownership to fund one of the most expensive rosters in the league, there have been people calling for his head for months. Figuratively, of course. (If we're literally calling for his head as a member of the wealthy ruling class, then that's a different article and let's just say I'm listening.) Of course Jeff bears responsibility for the poor product on the field, but only insofar as he picked the wrong soccer guys. Jeff did not scout and sign Maikel van der Werff, he did not scout and sign Kamohelo Mokotjo, he did not scout and sign Tom Pettersson, and he did not pick Haris Medunjanin in the waiver draft. Jeff's culpability as to those players, and other roster problems, is limited to telling Gerard Nijkamp, "If this is the player you want, I trust you, and I'll make sure the check clears."
It's well-known that Jeff doesn't know the first thing about putting a roster together or hiring a coach, so he relied on consultants to help him find Nijkamp and he relied (I presume) on Nijkamp's recommendation to hire his buddy Jaap Stam. Those judgments deserve to be scrutinized, but if Jeff isn't the guy picking the next GM and manager, then who is? Carl Lindner III? You want a Houston Texans situation?
Alternatively, it has been suggested that Jeff's personality is causing potential candidates to steer clear of us, but citations are way needed on that one. Look, I don't think Jeff is the most likeable guy either, and he's certainly a blowhard, but have none of you ever met rich people? All of these teams are owned and run by rich assholes. Portland, one of MLS's model franchises, is run by Hank Paulson's trust fund kid. Anyone who watched the recent Copa 90 Crew documentary can see that Anthony Precourt is a huge douchebag. The Crew's new owners aren't any better.
You know who else seems extremely unlikeable? Daniel Levy, Chairman of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. And yet, he's certainly raised that club's profile. They have built an incredible new stadium, signed a lucrative NFL deal, finished above Arsenal the last five years, played in the Champions League final, and hired top-tier managers. No, things are certainly not perfect at Tottenham, but we would be lucky to have a fraction of their success.
For all their history, the Crew didn't win their first trophy until their seventh season and didn't win their first MLS Cup until their thirteenth. That is despite entering the league on equal footing with the rest of MLS, when the level of competition was much lower. The team has never averaged more than 19,000 fans a game, despite starting their existence in Ohio Stadium, which has a capacity of more than 100,000. Crew have never been one of the more ambitious teams in MLS, and their current success is likely fleeting.
Berding has always run The FC with ambition, from building the most expensive roster in USL, to signing a DP before the first MLS season, to agreeing to sign Fabian Johnson in USL (before MLS got in the way), to taking a run at MLS incoming transfer records. The results and trophies will come, and they will come all over.
I have faith that Berding will redouble his efforts to pick soccer people whose talents match the team's ambitions. Only when he loses that ambition will I be #BerdingOut.