The Sweeper: The Dichio Experiment

TFC first goal

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Danny Dichio‘s retirement last Wednesday meant emotions ran high during the 24th minute of the first half during Toronto FC’s 3-2 win against the Colorado Rapids yesterday at BMO Field.  It was the 24th minute when Dichio scored Toronto FC’s first ever club goal against the Chicago Fire on May 13th 2007, and fans in the south stand have chanted his name at the same minute of play at every home game ever since.

Still, Dichio wouldn’t have been accorded the honour had he, like many other MLS overseas players who have come here in the twilight of their careers, slowly faded into obscurity.  Danny Dichio’s success (he is Toronto FC’s all-time high scorer despite missing a slew of games to injury) was the exception that proved the rule; TFC’s troubles over the past three seasons can be in part attributed to a record buying ill-adjusted players who have fallen out of the European merry-go-round. Players like Laurent Robert, Rohan Ricketts and Collin Samuel arrived with great fanfare only to be dropped quietly at the slow end of the news cycle.  And they are not alone in Major League Soccer.

That’s why Dichio’s short time in MLS is a model for aging or out-of-favour players planning on a move to North America.  His success with Toronto FC grew from his dedication to the organization and the city. Dichio and his family got immediately involved in communities on and off the field.  He was an active participant in local charities.  He was skilled at ingratiating himself with club supporters, and he spoke frequently about staying on with the coaching staff.  But perhaps most importantly, signaling that Toronto would be Més Que un Club, Dichio became a permanent resident of Canada.

Perhaps in the spirit of Dichio, owners and general managers in MLS might look to asking overseas players not just to join a club, but join a community, a city, a region, a country.  Goodness knows we can do better than paying them 100 million dollars only to lend them out on loan to AC Milan for half the year.

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