Johnston's short and sweet history with Becks

GEORGE GROSS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

Another reason the heralded David Beckham won't play against Toronto FC on Sunday could be his fear he might run into TFC's head coach Mo Johnston on the field.

You see, Johnston, a former Scottish international, played against Beckham when the former was with Everton of the English Premier League and Beckham was with the world's most expensive soccer team, Manchester United. Moreover, Everton whitewashed the team once known as the Busby Babes 3-0 and Johnston scored one of the goals.

"It was only the last goal I scored," Johnston said, trying to play down his contribution to the one-sided result. "We had a good team in those days and it didn't matter that the game was played on United's home ground. At any rate, it's too bad David won't play on Sunday."

And, for a while, I thought there was a possibility of a Beckham/Johnston duel on BMO Field's almost natural turf.

Concerned with nine injuries to his first team players and watching from the sideline as his "B" team players struggled with a training squad of local players yesterday, Johnston, dressed in a team jersey, shorts and soccer boots, said: "I think I may shed a few pounds and put on a game uniform. It's tough to watch the substitutes for nine players, some of whom just aren't good enough. It's not easy to replace the whole side of your team from the goal out. Mind you, we might have a pretty good goalie in a couple of days."

Of course, he remained tight-lipped about the potential goalkeeper -- thought to be Canadian Josh Wagenaar, who is under contract to Dutch first division's ADO den Haag.

The usually jovial Scotsman was subdued yesterday with perhaps a touch of exasperation and frustration. The cap arrangement in Major League Soccer leaves him virtually helpless to deal with the rash of injuries which has passed that of the excuse-laden, under-performing Blue Jays.

He couldn't even talk about last Sunday's pathetic performance in a 3-0 loss to the Chicago Fire. What can he do to turn things around versus the incoming L.A. Galaxy?

In a way, Johnston probably is pleased that Beckham won't be playing because, on top of putting a bunch of under-talented strangers on the pitch, he won't have to prepare a special system to stop the man sometimes known as Golden Balls. That said, I'm sure he did have a player (Maurice Edu) assigned to accompany Beckham wherever he was going, even to the bathroom.

"Beckham is very fast when he is healthy," Johnston said. "He breaks fast and, because of it, you have to mark him closely. We normally play a 4-4-2 system, but because of our rash of injuries, we may have to resort to a 4-5-1 (defensive) system."

Does that mean that he cannot rely on his players?

"What it means is that I'm satisfied with 13-14 players, but I need to be satisfied with four or five more," the soccer mentor said.

The problem is that some of his highest-paid players are hurting, including Ronnie O'Brien and Carl Robinson and others are not pulling their weight. But Johnston is not willing to concede a playoff spot.

"I never give up," Johnston said. "That's my Scottish mentality. And I wouldn't mind if they changed some of the rules in MLS."

And do any specific ones come to mind, I asked?

"I'd like to see the league allow us, as a Canadian team, to sign any number of Americans (like the all the U.S. teams get to do) and as many Canadians as we want to," Johnston said. "Next year we will have two first-round draft choices and that should give us two pretty decent players."

As far as David Beckham is concerned, I think Mo Johnston will leave him to Posh.


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