The man with the plan

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:15 AM ET

When Pat Quinn was dismissed as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was amidst some controversy.

Moe Johnston has arrived in town to take over as head coach of the Toronto FC team in the Major League Soccer loop, following a controversial background from his Scotland days.

He created quite a commotion in 1989 when, as a Catholic who played for the Glasgow Celtic, joined the rival predominantly Protestant Glasgow Rangers. Turns out it didn't affect his scoring exploits, however.

Young Maurice (Moe) Johnston -- he's only 43 -- had a truly colourful career as a player who showed off his talents in various European countries, as well as in North America, particularly as a player for the Kansas City Wizards and later as coach of the New York Red Bulls.

He scored a hatful of goals for the Scottish National team, Nantes in France and several clubs in Britain as a striker (centre forward) with a nose for goals.

"I played with and against some of the best players in the game," Johnston said. "My job here in Toronto is to put a competitive team on the field in our new stadium which I, hopefully, can do."

The head coach of the team owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. also will fill the function of general manager. He plans to travel in the next three months all over the map to look for players, regardless of nationality and religion. In fact, he plans to have a mini United Nations in soccer boots on the team.

Naturally, he won't be able to sign players of the calibre of Sir Stanley Matthews, Johnny Haynes, Danny Blanchflower, Tommy Younger and Jackie Mudie, who played for Toronto City in 1961 and attracted 20,000 fans to Varsity Stadium.

"We might be able to sign a top player willing to play here for, say, $ 500,000 a season," he said. "But with our team budget restricted by league rules to $ 1.9 million for 18 players, you have to select very carefully.

"We will also select players in the expansion draft and there are some good ones in Major League Soccer. My aim is to pick players who'll remain with our team for five or six years. I don't believe in players who use a team for a revolving door."

Johnston, who didn't enjoy his stay in New York, already enjoys Toronto. He is impressed by the leadership of MLSEL, particularly president Richard Peddie and chief operating officer Tom Anselmi.

The tough Scott is looking for adaptive players and he will gage the team's system of play accordingly. It could be a 4-5-1, or the conventional 4-4-2 formation.

He believes, just like Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice, in a mixture of young and veteran players. Johnston says if a 36-year-old has some fire left, he should find a spot for him.

Johnston has a three-year contract and might bring his wife Karen and four children to Toronto. But when he coached in New York, his family remained in Kansas City.

The soccer mentor expects that eventually everything will fall into place and that his talents and outgoing personality will attract thousands of Toronto's soccer fans to BMO Field at Exhibition Park.

Having known the appetite of Toronto soccer fans for more than four decades, I'm convinced it would take some name players to drag the fans in the thousands to Toronto FC's home ground.

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

We have not officially started the Variety Village Christmas column for needy children yet when a fine gentleman by the name of Gordon Calhoun called and said he had been collecting coins for Variety Village's children and would like to present $389 to help kick off this year's fund. "My son is also collecting coins and we may have more by the time the fund starts," Calhoun said ... Speaking of Variety Village, the children's charity institution will hold a Magical Gala Night at Liberty Grand on Sept. 27 with several stars of the entertainment and sports world invited. Look for actor and former model Monika Schnarre, actors Art Hindle and Pat Mastroianni, as well as hockey stars yet to be announced. For tickets at $500 call Michelle Levy at 416-482-0577 ... Ukrainian-born sportsman Myros Trutiak is responsible for the bronze work of the recently unveiled Veterans Memorial at Queen's Park.


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