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GREAT SOCCER TEAMS ARE BUILT AROUND THEIR SPINES
January 19, 2010, 3:41 AM
Filed under: Mo Johnston, Toronto FC

It’s a long-standing truism of footie coaching that, regardless of what system you play, the spine of the field — the centre halves, the centre mids and the forwards — have to be taken care of first.

If a team has a good spine but weak wings, it can narrow up. Players can even adapt more easily to moving into unfamiliar wide roles. Plus, finding wings and fullbacks is a lot easier than finding natural goal scorers and defensive standouts.

As the MLS season approaches, it’ll be interesting to see how Toronto FC ensures the spine of the club is in place. Not only will the related personnel moves be key factors in any TFC playoff run; they’ll also likely determine whether general manager Mo Johnston keeps his job after three unsuccessful seasons on the pitch.

TFC has been a team without a solid spine from day one. Looking back, as fans are at this time of year, there’s a lot of temptation to qualify TFC as being a loser from the first when compared with the sterling squad Seattle put together last year, or the increasingly impressive first-year offering so far from the Philadelphia Union.

The truth, however, is that Toronto’s first year roster had some really good players in it: Ronnie O’Brien, Paulo Nagamura, Richard Mulrooney and Conor Casey all at least had a cup of tea in town before heading elsewhere.

But it’s telling that, whether he blames roster restrictions or not, Johnston couldn’t provide a stable pair at either centre half or striker all season. If not for Carl Robinson’s excellent first year, we can only imagine how much more bleak some of the early beatings the team received might have been. Andrew Boyens? Marco Reda? Adam Braz? This was going to be his team’s defensive “spine”?

That’s what this off season is about. He has talked at length about TFC putting the right pieces in place. But without respecting the spine of the club — without building a backbone that works for whatever tactical approach head coach Preki takes — the club will be wilting by the all-star break, and Mo may be looking for work.

Seattle worked because of five key signings: Kasey Kellar, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Osvaldo Alonso, Freddie Ljunberg and Fredy Montero. That was the team’s spine. The rest of the squad could be built based on competence and work ethic, not star quality.

Philadelphia is impressing, but for different reasons, and it may show in the win-loss column this year: it’s picking up future stars, but so far has an expansion-club core in the middle of the pitch. So while Philly’s draft escapades looked impressive, Danny Mwanga will have to score a whole lot of first year goals to make up for the team’s shortcomings.

Last year, TFC was only four wins from competing for the Supporters Shield and one point from making the playoffs. Now it faces one unanswered point for 2010: can Mo Johnston build TFC a spine?

Source: Click Here

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TFC are in a mess and that’s a fact!
October 26, 2009, 5:15 PM
Filed under: Chris Cummins, Mo Johnston, Toronto FC

What an absolute shambles.

I have to admit, I decided on Sunday not to write a 2009 Toronto FC obituary. Plenty of others will do it and I can leave my thoughts to tapings of television shows and podcasts. However, we now live in a Twitter/Facebook world and what people want, they get.

So, in the spirit of Rafa and Fergie here goes.

FACT – There needs to some serious repercussions following Saturday’s humiliating performance in New York.

FACT – This cannot start and end with the coach.

FACT – Chris Cummins was leaving this club before Saturday’s debacle, practically sticking the proverbial two fingers up at the club on his way out, so the club, and management, cannot just allow his departure to be the sole reason for them to change direction.

FACT – There are major divisions inside that dressing room. They were there throughout the season and only now are we learning about them. Incredibly, we are learning about them from a rookie in Sam Cronin but at least he was man enough to step up in front of the microphones postgame on Saturday. (Not sure where the captain of the team was, by the way).

FACT – While we are on the subject of the captain, this needs to change. Just as people, rightly or wrongly, will hold Cummins accountable for the divisions in the locker room, the same has to be laid at the door of Jim Brennan. Brennan seems like a decent enough guy but at the end of the day he is the leader of a group inside that locker room that have been in battle together for nine months and have come out of it even less united than they were when the pre-season began. He is also painfully past his best on the field. Rumours are rife about retirement and if that happens in the offseason the team will be better for it. At the end of the day, Brennan, who was never blessed with a lot of pace, has lost a step and is a defensive liability. Following the nonsensical trade of Todd Dunivant in the offseason, there was no cover for Brennan in that position, forcing Cummins to play a formation in 3-5-2 that was cool a decade ago until it became incredibly exposed by sides who employed fast wide players.

FACT – Ah wide players, there’s a nice thought. It really is absolutely amazing that a team with ZERO wide players made it so close to making the MLS playoffs. Spare me with the Marvell Wynne answer also. Wynne is a right back, and nothing else, for a reason. His pace enables him to go one-on-one with the speedy left wingers in the MLS but going forward he is a technical nightmare. I am amazed he remembers to take the ball with him when he makes the runs. The fact that players such as Dwayne De Rosario, Pablo Vitti, Chad Barrett and Sam Cronin were all, on occasions, played out wide only shows how important the position is. The fact that none of them took to the position well shows just how unbalanced this team was from the beginning.

FACT – Sam Cronin is a good player and has the potential to be a solid player in the MLS. However, Mo Johnston knew full well when he drafted him that he was a central player (this is where he performed so well for Wake Forest) yet still took him ahead of a defender (the team’s biggest need). I actually feel sorry for Cronin. He was a victim of a terribly constructed roster and was forced to play out of position for the ENTIRE season.

FACT – (I know I only have a short amount of time to base this on but…) Julian De Guzman is being used all wrong by this team. De Guzman is a great talent but on a team that doesn’t control the ball well he needs to be more involved. During the talk of his impending arrival many words were written and spoken about how this signalled the end for midfielder Carl Robinson. However, I could never work that out and still can’t. Robinson is the perfect player to play with De Guzman, in any formation. Toronto FC didn’t play millions of dollars for a midfielder to sit in front of the defence and give the ball to game-changers in front of him. Unfortunately, Robinson’s late-season injuries robbed us of seeing the two play together and forced De Guzman into that role but had there been adequate depth to the squad then a central midfielder like Cronin should have taken the ‘Robinson role’ allowing De Guzman to be the attacking central midfielder.

FACT – For those reasons, De Guzman will desperately hoping Robinson returns to Toronto FC next season.

FACT – Amado Guevara has to go. I give Guevara a lot of credit for the way he has changed his game but his continued desire to drop deep, coupled with his 300K contract, means he needs to be moved on. He will also have two eyes firmly on South Africa in 2010.

FACT – Football is a simple game. Get good defenders and you will win more games than you lose. The fact that, after three years, this is still the biggest problem (and with the lack of goals, that’s saying something) is nothing short of disgraceful. For the bulk of 2008 season, the combination of Marco Velez and Tyrone Marshall were repeatedly torn to shreds but anyone with a remote football brain knew that Marshall was the better player yet he wasn’t given a chance to play next to a more accomplished defender. A year later and neither are here and the replacements have been no better. Adrian Serioux, not a natural central back, should never play that position for the club ever again and the acquisition of Nick Garcia is one of the worst in the short history of this franchise. In fact, seeing that the rights to Ali Gerba were also involved in the deal, makes it THE worst deal in the history of the club. Mo Johnston may well have taken $450,000 in cash out of the MLSE bank account and set it on fire in the middle of BMO Field.

FACT – Mo Johnston has made a reputation for himself of giving out laughable contracts. Garcia and Gerba aside, the money given to Pablo Vitti is nothing short of a miracle. What actually merited Vitti getting close to 300K in the first place? The fact that he was from Argentina and good on a video game? Vitti arrived in Toronto with a reputation of a goalscorer, despite having never scored goals anywhere he’d been. Johnston was remarkable passive when it came to Vitti. A man who never shy’s away from cutting players should have known as soon as he saw Vitti have no desire to get in the box what he had signed yet stuck with him. As I have eluded to in the past, Vitti is now a client of First Wave Sports so don’t be surprised to see him back next season.

FACT – Talking about bad contracts. Its now 15 months since Toronto FC acquired Chad Barrett from Chicago, where he scored 18 goals in 82 appearances. Apparently, two months into his tenure at BMO Field, Johnston saw enough to give him a four year deal close to 200K per year. Staggering. For the record, Barrett has 9 goals in 42 appearances for Toronto FC. It takes him five games to get a goal.

FACT – Dwayne De Rosario had a good season but not a great season. Sure, it was hard playing with some of the players he did but he absolutely disappeared down the stretch. In fact, he disappeared the moment he was no longer ‘the man’ when the DP arrived. I’m just saying.

FACT – The job of becoming Toronto FC’s next coach is one that isn’t that appealing right now. Unless, MLSE are willing to sign a big fat check to entice a big name, why else would anyone want the job? They clearly will not be in charge and will have to answer to Mo Johnston and coach Mo Johnston’s players. They, like all of us, have read the reports of dressing room unrest. They know the squad is incredibly thin and even more unbalanced. Year three was the year they wanted to make the playoffs. Year four may prove to be a massive test to get to that unless big changes take place at BMO Field this winter and, folks, I’m not talking about the grass.

Source: Click Here



TFC looking to the future
March 17, 2009, 3:36 PM
Filed under: MLSE, Mo Johnston, Toronto FC

An informal chat on Tuesday between Toronto FC supremo Mo Johnston, MLSE Executive VP and COO Tom Anselmi, and a hoard of salivating hacks both print and electronic, was a new, but useful way to start the new MLS season.

In fact the entire energy under the bubble at BMO field was exuding positiveness and good will.  Indeed, before a ball has been kicked in anger, everyone loves everyone, and all is right in Toronto’s footballing universe!  Let us enjoy it while it lasts, I dare say it will all change as the season progresses.

Some of the interesting comments and opinions:

* Yes, MLSE and TFC are hoping to one day play on grass at BMO.  Making this a reality will be a complicated, and a time consuming journey, but it is something that is being considered.

* An elite athete performance center is being eyed alongside the new Maple Leaf practice facility in the west end of Toronto.  This would allow the players to train on grass throughout the week.

* Expansion of BMO field by as many as 8000 seats has also been discussed.  Again, nothing is imminent, nothing is being planned, but it has at least been discussed.  Such expansion will cost in the neighbourhood of $15,000,000.

* Mo reiterated for the 94,000,000th time, that when the right player is available, a DP will be on his way to BMO, but as it stands, nothing is in the works.

* There is one more piece to the puzzle to come, a time frame has not been given as to exactly when, but when the player arrives that will likely be it!  At least for the time being.  Mo did not specify, but alluded to the fact that we all know what he wants, and of course that comes in the shape of a Center Half.

* Unlike last season when Mo Edu left, the club does not anticipate losing any players to Europe this season.

* MLS has debated aligning both the East and West conferences into one division, something TFC would support, but they don’t expect any changes to be coming to the League’s structure any time soon.

* TFC has targetted Africa as a relatively untapped market (evidenced by the recent signings of Amadou Sanyang, and Emmanuel Gomez) expect Mo to continue to work his contacts in the region.

* The Beckham Nightmare will not affect the League according to TFC.  Mo is adament the signing did pay off, and any embarrasment the League might currently be experiencing will not last.  Anselmi for the record, speaks passionately about the MLS brand, he says he is “as bullish about MLS as he’s ever been.” 

* Mo is not a fan of the Seattle model, where fans will vote in and vote out the General Manager!  No kidding!

TFC kicks off the 2009 season this Saturday in Kansas City.  The roster looks locked, aside from the imminent arrival in defence, and certainly the new boys look the part.  Adrian Serioux should be healthy for the weekend, and from what I saw today at training, Pablo Vitti looks lively, while De Ro looks like he’s going to be a little bit special!

Source: Click Here


DailyMail: Johnston 3rd Biggest Traitor in Football
March 2, 2009, 11:48 AM
Filed under: Mo Johnston

For choosing Rangers rather than return to Celtic after a brief spell in France just days after giving a press conference declaring his love for his former club.

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2009 Outlook: TFC eyes Playoffs
February 28, 2009, 3:40 PM
Filed under: John Carver, Mo Johnston, Toronto FC

2008 record and finish: 9-13-8

Key additions: M Dwayne De Rosario, F Pablo Vitti, M Sam Cronin, GK Stephan Frei, F O’Brian White, D Adrian Serioux, GK Stefan Frei

Key losses: D Tyrone Marshall, F Jarrod Smith, D Julius James, D Todd Dunivant, D Hunter Freeman

Three questions facing this team:

1. Will the defense be good enough to get TFC to the playoffs?

TFC managed just one shutout after the All-Star break last year, a sad number considering the seven shutouts posted before the break. What was different? One could point to international fixture dates leaving Toronto short-handed, but what explains all the late goals Toronto allowed during the year? TFC allowed an astonishing eight goals in the 90th minute or later.

Has Toronto addressed the issue? TFC did go out and deal away Jamaican defender Tyrone Marshall and bring in Canadian defender Adrian Serioux, which is an upgrade. The club is on the verge of signing a central defender, which is key because a tandem of Serioux and Kevin Harmse wouldn’t exactly instill fear in a stacked Eastern Conference.

2. How well will Dwayne De Rosario and Amado Guevara work together?

The arrival of hometown hero De Rosario has fans buzzing about what that might mean to the TFC attack, but the real question is how De Rosario’s arrival will affect Guevara, a former MLS MVP who has been known for struggling to share the spotlight.

Guevara enjoyed a solid first season in Toronto, and all signs indicate that he is more mature now than he was during his time with the MetroStars, when he sometimes had trouble sharing the spotlight with French star Youri Djorkaeff.

De Rosario is expected to provide a major boost to an offense that struggled badly at times in 2008, but it should be noted that he’s coming off a disappointing year by his standards. Whether it was the fatigue of a loaded fixture list for Houston and Canada, or the signs of age, De Rosario will need to get back to his MLS Cup MVP-winning form in order for Toronto to go from playoff outcast to serious contender.

3. Who will score the goals?

When your leading scorer manages just five goals, your team has a problem. That was the issue with Toronto in 2008. There was no go-to goal-scoring threat like a Juan Pablo Angel, Alejandro Moreno or Brian McBride for other Eastern Conference rivals. The 2009 forward crop looks familiar to last year’s, but the new faces could have an impact.

Chad Barrett is one of the players back, but he is also a player who tallied a respectable four goals and three assists in 13 games. He was one of the few bright spots in the second half of the season and could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Toronto’s loaded midfield.

If there is a leading candidate to emerge as the team’s top goal threat, it is Argentine striker Pablo Vitti, who joins Toronto on loan from Independiente. A fast and skillful striker, Vitti has bounced around a bit, with a loan stint in the Ukraine his most recent excursion, but he has the talent to make an impact. He was a member of Argentina’s team that won the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Danny Dichio led Toronto with five goals last season, but concussions and injuries limited him to 17 starts. The big Englishman is still a handful in the area and could flourish with steady service from De Rosario, Rohan Ricketts and Guevara.

Biggest X-factor: Pablo Vitti

For all the team’s question marks in the back, one can argue that Toronto’s biggest X-factor will be whichever central defender the club signs before the start of the season. For now, the focus goes on Vitti, who brings special traits to the forward position that none of the other strikers in the group possesses. Will Vitti actually deliver on that ability? Or will he wind up showing TFC fans why he hasn’t settled in at Independiente?

Breakout player to watch: Sam Cronin

It isn’t often that a rookie central midfielder steps in and makes a big impact. Toronto has had one of those in its young history in U.S. national team midfielder Maurice Edu. Now TFC could have another in Cronin, whose poise, vision and intelligence on the field should help him make a smooth transition from college to the pro game. The No. 2 pick in the 2009 MLS Draft, Cronin won’t be called on to do much creating, but if he can work his way into the starting lineup, he could provide the perfect partner and occasional replacement for standout defensive midfielder Carl Robinson.

One player who could wind up having a major impact in the second half of the season is O’Brian White. The No. 4 pick in the 2009 MLS draft, White is still recovering from ACL surgery but is expected to be back by the summer. Before the injury, White was considered the best player in college soccer, with blazing speed and nifty moves. If he can regain those strengths after major knee surgery, he could provide a much-needed boost down the stretch.

Outlook: There is plenty of reason for optimism in Toronto. The club landed prodigal son Dwayne De Rosario and recently added another Toronto native in Adrian Serioux. Add that to an impressive haul at the MLS draft and the arrival of Pablo Vitti, and TFC is set for a playoff run in the loaded Eastern Conference.

Toronto has the makings of a playoff team because it boasts talent like never before and is built around a strong and deep midfield. If Carver can get De Rosario, Guevara, Ricketts and Robinson to work together, and if Cronin can live up to the hype surrounding his arrival, TFC could easily boast one of the best midfields in the league.

So what should the team be worried about? The defense is the biggest concern. The Marshall-Harmse center back tandem just wasn’t good enough down the stretch. Serioux is an upgrade over Marshall, but upgrading the other center back slot is crucial if Toronto is going to be serious about not only making the playoffs but also challenging the upper-echelon teams in the East like Columbus and Chicago.

Toronto also needs one of its forwards to emerge as the focal point of the attack. The chances should be there with De Rosario and Guevara providing the service. It will be up to Barrett, Vitti or Dichio to give the team a double-digit goal scorer.

A lot of things still need to be resolved as Toronto heads into 2009, but the revamped roster should give Carver and Toronto a fighting chance to reach the postseason. If things don’t come together, it will likely be the last chance for Carver and for director of soccer Mo Johnston. If things do come together, TFC will be not only a favorite to make the playoffs for the first time in team history but also a team nobody wants to face in the playoffs.

John Harkes’ Take:

“Another set of underachievers with the best set of support groups in the league. I think No. 1: Dwayne De Rosario. That’s the first thing you have to list. Putting his presence into the lineup is going to help them immediately. Of course they have [Amado] Guevara, but whether or not he’s going to be playing alongside of him, or what role he’s going to play, we’re not sure. They also have Sam Cronin, who I’m a big fan of. He’s a rookie midfielder coming in this year, played for Jay Vidovich at Wake Forest. I’ve been following his career in college for the last three years, and I think he’s a fantastic player. Keeps it very simple, good vision on the field, plays defensive midfield quite well. So that should give them some stability down the middle of the field as well. And then Rohan Ricketts as well — he’s exciting, but it’s got to be a little more consistency with them. They’ve had so many teams score so many goals against them; their defense has to be a little more organized.”

Source: Click Here



TFC close to signing Centre Back?
February 24, 2009, 8:31 AM
Filed under: Adrian Serioux, Mo Johnston, Toronto FC

There hasn’t been much player movement with Toronto FC lately.

The big rumour is that the Reds have picked up Canadian International Adrian Serioux and that he could be training with the team as early as Tuesday.

There’s one centre back problem solved.

Mo Johnston’s cell phone was glued to his ear all day and it appears as though the hunt for another one is nearly complete.

Source: Click Here



Ricketts in MoJo’s plans
January 28, 2009, 9:42 PM
Filed under: Mo Johnston, Rohan Ricketts, Toronto FC

Toronto FC midfielder Rohan Ricketts spoke with Tyler Green and Mike Martignago at Full Time: Vancouver’s Soccer Show today and he had some very interesting things to say.

He talked about life in the MLS, his time in Toronto and discussed his future with the club. Rohan sounds certain he’s very much a part of things and says he has been assured by Toronto Director of Soccer Operations Mo Johnston that he will be around this season.

“He spoke to me and said I’m a big part of his plans. So, I don’t need to worry cuz there is a few changes about to happen.”

“I’m looking forward to next season. And making the playoffs at least. That’s the least. I want to go for the title…We got a good team assembling at the moment. It’s going to be a great season down here.”

You can listen to the clip here. And you can check out the full interview here on the Team 1040 this Sunday (Feb. 1) at 10 p.m.

Source: Click Here