Lynx owner Iantorno looking towards 1998.
by Paul Hendren -- September 25th, 1997
|After completing their rookie campaign with a 14
win , 14 loss record Lynx President and majority owner Enzo Iantorno sat
down with Canada Kicks to reflect on the past season in the A - League;
to discuss the teams future and to analyse the state of professional soccer
CK: By agreeing to do this interview can I assume that the Lynx will be back for another season? Are you therefore assuring your loyal supporters that the team will continue to operate?
Iantorno: Definitely. I wouldnít have it any other way. It's a three to five year plan.
CK: Now that the smoke has cleared from the Lynx quick exodus from the playoffs what word comes to mind when describing your first year in professional soccer?
CK: Can you elaborate?
Iantorno: I was actually surprised with the brand of soccer that we played for the first year. Aside from a few games that we went on a little scoring drought , at one point we were the highest scoring team in the league. Injuries more than anything else played a big part of our downfall near the end. At any given time we had five regulars out of our line up. It's one thing I wanted to prove. When we started people were actually laughing at us. I had some so called soccer experts in Toronto phone me to question if I knew what I was doing. They told me if we won four games with the line up we had we would be lucky. They questioned that some of the players chosen were not good enough to play in the A - League. Seeing the dedication of our players it motivates us as owners to do anything possible to ensure that these guys can make a full time living out of this. Seeing them practice in February and March at Lamport Stadium in the snow and sub zero temperatures and not making a lot of money does not make us feel very good as owners so hopefully it will be nice within a few years to be able to repay these players back.
CK: Did your decision to enter the murky world of pro soccer meet your expectations?
Iantorno : Overall the first year , I will be honest , we thought we had a positive season. We know that we made some mistakes that we naturally have to correct but we learned a lot and the only way we are going to learn is to be here for year two and year three. It would have been a waste of time just trying it for one year. I sometimes went into the crowd and I talked to our fans , some people knew me , some people thought I was another fan. It was nice to see the response I was getting. It made me really happy when people came up to me at the end of a game thanking us for bringing soccer back. Seeing the kids being excited about the team. In previous years I never saw the players get together with the kids like our players did. The kids looked up to our players and we have to build heroes. One Oakville coach told me that his young players were imitating Paul Stalteri and Joe Ciaravino during practice. The players naturally feel great because they are appreciated. Hopefully next year we have to elevate our image even more to treat them as pros and than hopefully the media picks up on it. I think our biggest challenge is getting the major media to start taking us seriously and I think that will come through longevity.
CK: What would you do differently?
Iantorno: With the media, personally I feel there has to be a lot of one to one meetings , it doesnít matter if it is sponsors or even fans. With just advertising it doesnít bring fans to the stadium but sitting down with clubs , coaches and making them understand that if the pro team succeeds everyone benefits.
CK: What are your plans during the off season?
Iantorno: Most of our players are playing indoor , some players are going to do clinics and naturally we are starting our season ticket campaign this year in October. We have submitted our letter of intent to the league. As far as I know there will be at least 24 teams in the league. There may be a couple of teams dropping out but the one good thing about the league is that it is very solid. This year I imagine that there were a couple of teams that had financial problems but nobody heard about it. In other words the league covered everything up and the season ended with 24 teams. Thatís the only way a professional league can operate. You canít have teams folding in mid season.
CK: What kind of a budget were you operating with? Will you be working with the same budget next season or has there been a change in your strategic plan?
Iantorno: It's about $1 million , $1.2 million. It will more or less be the same next year.
CK: Has there been any interest from Corporate Canada to invest in your team? If so can you tell me who they are?
Iantorno: We are approaching a lot more sponsors , sponsors from last year that actually told us they would be interested in year two judging on our performance. I have a budget meeting set this week to meet with some major sponsors. They seem a lot more warmer to us knowing that we are going to be here next year. Pizza Pizza and Molson's are already on board and naturally they will be here next year. We are looking at other equipment sponsors like Nike and Puma. We are already in a built relationship with Umbro.
CK: Will you be returning to Varsity Stadium?
Iantorno: We are looking at it and we havenít signed the lease because Varsity wonít release until December. Definitely , unless they tear it down this year. It would probably be a blessing if they replace it with a 10,000 - 15,000 capacity stadium. But I think for professional soccer in Toronto it is the only venue we have. Even though we can play at Centennial Stadium or Birchmount Stadium, but to truly call yourself a professional franchise you need to play in the best stadium. Anyway , Centennial and Birchmount donít meet league standards and they are not the best fields in town.
CK: Some prominent members of the soccer community have criticized your lack of promoting the team in the main stream print and electronic media. Are you going to address this next season?
Iantorno: We had a four page insert in the Toronto Sun which went out just before the opening game in May , 500,000 copies. We had a coupon there , buy one ticket get one free. Out of 500,000 flyers we brought in 83 fans. So I donít think that is the way to go. It costs a lot of money. We would be better off spending the money on clubs. The easiest sale of seasons tickets is at the corporate end and not with the individual. The Leafs and Blue Jays are prime examples of corporate tickets.
CK: What are your expectations next season ?
Iantorno: At the start of the season we said that a 14 - 14 record would be a good start , 16 - 12 we would be extremely happy and when we started 10 -2 naturally, to be honest I was disappointed where we ended up. We had a meeting in the middle of the six game losing streak and actually one of the players said I was overly critical of the team. We could have definitely done better but I guess we made the playoffs in year one. Naturally, year two we will like to have a better record during the regular season and advance in the playoffs.
Off the field we feel very confident that next year we can build our fan base to average over 3,000. I think we are putting a big push on seasons tickets and we are aiming to get up to 1,500 to 2,000 seasons tickets which again may have never been done in Toronto before.
CK: Your second season will be going head to head with the World Cup. Are you concerned that soccer fans will make obvious comparisons?
Iantorno: The league looked into that. They will have a light schedule during the month of the World Cup but in turn there will be a lot of teams from South America or Europe looking to travel so we could look at setting up some international matches during that period.
CK: There was a perception in the local soccer community that the Lynx and the owners of the CNSL (Canadian National Soccer League) franchises were not on the same page. With the Ontario Soccer Association now joining forces with the CNSL next year and operating their own professional league what do you perceive to be your teams role in the greater soccer picture?
Iantorno: Even though we know they are there , naturally we will do anything possible to work together but itís pretty hard to put so many heads together. Definitely the way to go is to work together because they are, I guess a developmental league for us. Thatís where most of our players will come from. We are at the top of the pyramid. The OSA has put the Lynx at the top. We are the professional team and even though they are called the Canadian Professional Soccer League , Iím not going to say that they are not professional, but that is debatable. Iím not here to feud with anyone. Again if they have a player that is good enough to play in the A - League they should make sure that player gets the opportunity.
CK: Is the OSA working co-operatively with the Lynx?
Iantorno: On paper we seem to be doing everything. We should have meetings with the OSA to make sure we are not going to have contract problems with players like in the past. Last year trying to get a couple of players from the CNSL wasnít fun. It's sad when you have a 19 year old kid that has a chance to showcase himself in a higher league and get exposure for the national team. When you really look at it how many players made it to the national team or Europe from the CNSL?
We have a couple of players that are being looked at by Italian teams. A second division club is looking at Paul Stalteri but I canít mention the club because we are in the middle of negotiations.
CK: The Lynx hired two experienced and well respected soccer people who were involved in the evolution of the team. Both individuals resigned in mystery well before the season ended. Can you tell the local soccer community what happened?
Iantorno: Thatís a tough one. Alf ,(Alf DeBlasis , former Media Relations Director and Director of Marketing) as a person I really like. I think he did great for us. Unfortunately I think we put him in the wrong position. He is a good media relations person but we gave him to much management and he didnít have the qualified help ,so it was to much for him to handle but he left on good terms.
With David Gee (former Assistant General Manager) I wouldnít put it that he had disagreements with one of the other partners. David Gee gets my full credit to put the players together but I think itís the way things had to go. I donít want to sound like Iím the nice guy but there were some differences. Aside from that I was happy with the work David did and some of the players he brought in. Honestly I wished he could have stayed until the end of the season. One of the things I said at the start of the season was that we should show stability as a team. Front office stability is a big thing to. Thatís one thing we hope to work on. That is, to have a front office staff that will be there for a while. We need a ticket manager and marketing manager and we hope to have them at the end of November.
CK: After the all star break the Lynx traded their leading goal scorer Darren Tilley for two players not even in Montrealís starting eleven. Was the trade worth while?
Iantorno: Overall now you can assess the trade. Definitely Kevin (Holness) and Gioia helped out because we were in a six game losing streak and the day that they played we came out of the losing streak. I think we won three or four straight after that.
Naturally Tilley did well for Montreal. He scored a lot of goals. He is a good target man. Tilley wasnít traded for his inability to play. I think that, unfortunately , Tilley was not seeing eye to eye with some of the younger players and having played at a higher level I think he was putting some of our younger players down. It is funny when you really look at Stalteri, the moment that Tilley was gone, he went and got three goals in four games and Paul started playing well. Gioia probably was a better fit for Stalteri as a give and go duo.
CK: What players stood out in your eyes this season?
Iantorno: Ralph Golen I was very impressed with. Another player that really surprised me was Elvis (Thomas). He was on the fringe of not making the team when we left for Florida and because of his work ethic he worked his way into the starting line up and became a regular starter. Stalteri surprised me even though we knew what he was capable of but I think he has a very good future.
CK: What areas does the team need improvement next season?
Iantorno: We definitely need an experienced defender. A big strong defender. We need an experienced midfielder. I think one or two there. We were very soft in the midfield. We lost a lot of 50 / 50 balls because of the type of players we had putting our defence under a lot of pressure a lot of times. The Americans play a very physical type of game. The only physical player we had was our smallest player. (Daryl Holmes).
CK: What players have expressed an interest in returning next season?
Iantorno: We have given everybody a letter of intent to sign and then we will start negotiating. Personally I would like to see 11 or 12 of the present roster coming back. One thing we definitely realize is that you canít win with 11 starters. You need 18 starters and 6 players to fill in.
CK: In a recent Radio interview Kevan Pipe (Chief Operating Officer of the Canadian Soccer Association) attributed the National teamís poor showing during World Cup qualifying to the lack of professional soccer teams in this country? Do you agree with his assessment?
Iantorno: NO. We had this conversation with Kevan a few times. All I hear is Lenarduzzi and Kevan Pipe and everyone else saying that the problem with the national team is that we donít have a national soccer league, something like MLS. We are struggling to make the three A -League teams survive in Toronto , Montreal and Vancouver , what makes anyone think that by starting a brand new league across Canada we would be able to do better? Second of all where would the money come from? , and third of all would we be able to afford an Alex Bunbury or a Craig Forrest to play in Canada , just like MLS did? So unless the CSA decides to give each team three million dollars , and thatís not going to happen.
CK: Pipe also indicated that in the upcoming months the CSA (Canadian Soccer Association) will be meeting with soccerís professional partners. Will you be participating in those meetings? What do you think will be the outcome of those meetings? If you had a wish list to take to the CSA what would it be?
Iantorno: Yes. The wish list is to strengthen the A - League teams where we are dominating the league. For the time being as we grow and become stronger try to bring in two or three other Canadian teams to the A- League which would naturally be Edmonton , Winnipeg and Halifax. Where it would give more Canadian players the opportunity to play at a higher level. As for what Lenarduzzi is saying that he doesnít have professional league, personally I donít want to be critical of Bobby but he is calling players that are playing third division in England. I would be willing to bet that some of our players are a lot better than he is calling from Europe. Just because they are playing in the third and fourth divisions in Europe doesnít mean that they are better than the players we have here. Paul Stalteri is a prime example.