Dark days for TFC

Toronto FC coach Mo Johnston has dealt with a lineup depleted by injuries. (Sun File/Craig...

Toronto FC coach Mo Johnston has dealt with a lineup depleted by injuries. (Sun File/Craig Robertson)

DEAN McNULTY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

In a move that widely was expected, Toronto FC announced yesterday that its most talented midfielder -- Ronnie O'Brien -- and its most potent scorer -- Jeff Cunningham -- would require season-ending surgery to repair knee and abdominal injuries.

Cunningham, who played for 20 minutes in last Saturday's 2-0 loss to Chivas USA, will go to Germany to have a specialist operate on his sports hernia, while O'Brien will face the knife in the next 10 days here to repair a torn meniscus.

The loss of the players deals a serious -- if not fatal -- blow to TFC's hopes of making it into the playoffs in its first Major League Soccer season.

With just nine games left on the schedule, the team would have to win at least six of those to catch the teams in front of them in its division.

TFC is last in the Eastern Division with 20 points, 13 behind D.C. United, which holds the final automatic playoff spot. And there are four sides -- New York, Kansas City, Columbus and Chicago -- between them and a wild-card berth.

Manager Mo Johnston has fought for most of the season with a lineup depleted by injuries and still has managed five wins and five draws. But without both O'Brien and Cunningham in the starting 11, it would take a Herculean effort by his reserve players to pull it out.

Cunningham would have been back within four weeks if he'd had his surgery today. But he's not scheduled to go for at least three more weeks.

"We always kept this surgery in Germany open in case there was a relapse, and that's what happened," Johnston said in a team release. "The surgery now is between the sixth and ninth of September, so it's looking like his season's done."

RECOVERY MODE

TFC trainer Carmelo Lobue said that O'Brien will be at least four to six weeks in recovery once he gets clearance for his knee operation.

That makes three starters -- goalkeeper Greg Sutton is also out with post-concussion syndrome -- that Johnston will have to do without.

"It's very unfortunate. We've got three of our major players with end-of-season injuries and we've still got nine games to go," Johnston said. "We're certainly not giving up. We have a lot of character in our locker room and these decisions create opportunities for some of our other players to show the fans what they can do. We still have playoffs in our sights."

On the good news side of the ledger, striker Danny Dichio and defender Marvel Wynne are expected to start Saturday against D.C. United.

And team captain Jim Brennan is expected to keep his streak alive of playing every minute so far this season, despite playing the past two games with a broken wrist and several fractured ribs.


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