Rick Titus was supposed to be the veteran presence solidifying the defence of a young expansion team.
Instead, just six games into their inaugural season, the Edmonton Aviators released Titus in a bizarre transaction yesterday. Titus, who begged his way out of a contract with the A-League's Charleston Battery to join the Aviators, was sent packing after an ongoing series of battles with a handful of teammates who apparently didn't like the way Titus dealt with them on the field.
While Joe Petrone, the team's director of soccer operations, rather quietly determined this as "visions that were slightly different," Titus went on a full-out attack. His lengthy tirade was directed at team management, head coach Ross Ongaro and a number of his teammates.
"This has been a Mickey Mouse organization from the beginning,'' said Titus. "I don't know if they're very serious about winning.
The Aviators (0-3-4) were hammered 6-0 by the Western Conference-leading Portland Timbers (7-1-0) last night.
"I respect Joe a lot and I don't think he really wanted to release me, but if he didn't he'd probably have had to fire Ross," continued Titus. "Joe is stuck in the middle between (team president) Wylie Stafford and Ross. And those two are both in over their heads."
Petrone sounded like a man caught in the proverbial rock and hardplace conundrum.
"He was one of our best players and I've always liked Rick as well," said Petrone. "This was a situation that we could not come to an agreement on and something had to give."
Titus, a fan favourite dating back to his days with the indoor Drillers, first began to notice a problem during the team's training camp, which was plagued by poor weather. And from the 34-year-old defender's perspective, things only got worse when the team was introduced to the city.
"You can't have a professional team train at the (Edmonton) Garrison," said Titus. "We should have got out of town to Kelowna or Kamloops, then we could have had a good camp and been prepared to play our first game. A pro team can't train at O'Leary and we can't have a press conference on the lawn of O'Leary.
"We had guys coming from playing with Colo-Colo in Chile and we're having a press conference at a high school?
"They couldn't fathom that and I could never get my head around it. (Assistant coach) Jorge Rodriquez understands what it takes and he's ended up being not much more than a goalie coach. He knows so much more than anybody there."
As a senior member of the team, Titus felt obligated to bring the players' concerns to Ongaro, but matters only worsened when the team's younger players complained to the coach about the way Titus registered his thoughts on their play.
"Ross told me that they didn't like the way I was saying things to them and he was playing those 20-year-olds and thought they were superstars," explained Titus, who suspected Chris Lemire, Sean Fraser and even captain Kurt Bosch asked Ongaro to give him the boot. "Ross knew exactly how I felt. I never hid anything from him, but he was way over his head coaching outdoor.
A GOOD COACH BUT ...
"He's a good indoor coach but the things he was doing were things coaches did 20 years ago and were not conducive to modern soccer.
"He's a teacher and he tried transferring that to a pro team, like being fined for cursing. These guys are used to being treated like men and the players who don't like being yelled at can't handle it."
When coming up through the ranks, Titus said he was always eager to receive advice from veteran players and, as recently as last season, valued the thoughts of Charleston backliner and former Canadian national teamer Mark Watson.
On the occasions he decided to voice his opinion, Titus, a former all-star in both the A-League and Major League Soccer, felt his now ex-teammates disrespected him.
"After the game in Minnesota, Bosch and Sipho (Sibiya) and Gordon Chin are telling me how the team's defensive alignment should be. I couldn't believe it.
"Bosch has never done anything in this league and is no captain. Sipho is a friend of mine but he can't play outdoor anymore and Gordon doesn't know a thing about defence.''
After singling out the strong play of Chris Devlin and Claudio Salinas along with the diligence of front-office staffer Courtney Manz, Titus went on the offensive one last time.
"I know there's four or five other guys who if they had any other place to go, want to leave right now," said Titus, who has received calls from Charleston and Toronto of the A-League as well as the MLS's New England Revolution.
"I asked Chris Handsor to come here and now he's upset that I'm leaving.
"My friendship with Ross has soured. He asked me to come here and I wanted to continue the winning tradition that the Drillers had but the new ownership wanted nothing to do with the old Drillers fans. Nobody in the soccer community has any respect for Ross."
Titus, who has a daughter in the city, was also critical of the club's decision to play in Commonwealth Stadium.
In fact, he and an investor from Denver had approached the United Soccer Leagues about an expansion franchise for Edmonton which would play out of Foote Field, but the league rejected that bid in favour of the current ownership's plan.
FLIGHT PLAN: Petroe suggested more players will be arriving, but likely not in time for Tuesday's home matchup with Vancouver.