September 15, 2010
Canning Mo isn't a cure-all
By GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency
The fans got their wish. The sacrificial lamb has been slain. Toronto FC director of soccer Mo Johnston's firing comes as no surprise. It was a matter of when, not if.
But the when is interesting.
Although Tom Anselmi, executive vice-president and COO at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Limited, denies the correlation between Johnston's dismissal and season ticket renewal time, the timing certainly suggests the negative perception of Johnston from supporters was the determining factor.
Johnston lost the trust of supporters some time ago.And the teams' mantra, give the masses bread and circuses and the people will not revolt, meant heads had to roll.
Johnston is the convenient scapegoat for organizational dysfunction. The best thing he ever did for MLSEL was give it the perfect foil. There is no question Mo had to go, but to put all the blame for TFC's woes on his head is unfair.
This isn't to defend Johnston; he doesn't need that. The Scotsman has thick skin.
And Johnston's track record cannot reasonably be defended. A revolving door of players (85 in total), no playoff appearances, and internal strife and turmoil straight out of a soap opera has made the franchise a punch line -- as did Johnston's shortcomings in roster building.
He failed to address the centre-back position until this season when Adrian Cann fell in his lap (and almost didn't), porous wing play, and the lack of a potent goal-scorer. Trusting the wrong people (Barry Maclean and First Wave Sports, John Carver, and Preki to name a few) was also a contributing factor.
But the biggest contributor to the franchise's failure is MLSEL itself. For an organization with such a rich history of building winners (sarcasm), it's not surprising MLSEL assumed one man alone was capable of delivering a winner without requisite assistance and soccer minds around him.
MLSEL has built the franchise as ad hock as it comes. It underestimated the soccer appetite in Toronto, and therefore the product since the beginning. And once it started making money, the focus turned to how to make more money, instead of how to build a winner.
The circus began upon inception with an open contest to the public for a roster spot. MLSEL also assumed FieldTurf was a suitable playing surface. It went on to make prestigious international friendlies priority over league games and deemed bringing a Designated Player to the club unnecessary until the public demanded it. But the biggest mistake of all was failing to give Johnston a proper soccer staff. Johnston was merely a by-product of MLSEL malaise. It was a suicide mission, entrusted to run the club, perform all scouting, deal with all contracts, all player moves, while baby-sitting dysfunction below.
MLSEL, the so-called best ownership group in MLS, failed to be proactive to build proper soccer infrastructure. Now the club's front office is bare and the search begins for a new face to take on far too much responsibility. The naive prevailing perspective that Johnston is gone and now everything will be all right is a farce.
Anselmi, a nice guy and fine businessman, hasn't the knowledge of the game to find the right replacement. Anselmi admitted he'll rely on MLSEL connections and the MLS front-office to aide in the search. Such a move reeks of how the Raptors reeled in Bryan Colangelo. Get a name, give him the keys and hope for the best. This isn't the way to do business. And just like the Raptors, TFC will end up with style but little substance.
The suits at MLSEL simply don't have the sport acumen to make intelligent professional decisions. The Blue Jays learned the consequences of such negligence, bottoming out with J.P. Ricciardi before realizing building infrastructure from within is the only way to cultivate a culture of winning.
MLSEL's own negligence allowed Johnston to stay on far past his expiry date. Johnston should have been replaced after last season's 5-0 debacle in their finale in New York. Not one supporter would have questioned such a move. But it was more convenient to keep Johnston, fresh off an unannounced extension, and hope for the best.
So blame Johnston if you may, and you won't be wrong, but the problems run deeper and won't be fixed with one swoop of the axe.