Mo is satisfied, but don't mention July to him

DEAN MCNULTY

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

Asked yesterday to give some perspective on his team's rookie season in Major League Soccer, Toronto FC manager Mo Johnston hardly skipped a beat.

"Look, I think we had a pretty good year if you took away July," he said.

What might have been just a mid-summer swoon turned into a full-blown monsoon for TFC during July.

It all started with the team being forced to play five consecutive games away from BMO Field and their 20,000 rabid fans to make room for the under-20 World Cup.

And with each road game came more bad news.

First it was starting goalkeeper Greg Sutton -- just returned from a stint with Canada's national team -- suffering the after-effects of a concussion.

"It ended his season and we were forced into a position of having to use five different 'keepers since then," Johnston said. "You can't build a team that way."

Next it was Jeff Cunningham, who suffered a sports hernia in a game at Columbus that ended up requiring surgery and costing TFC the services of its most potent scorer for more than a month.

In that same game, striker Danny Dichio -- the team's other major scoring threat -- came down with a bad back and a hip flexor. Those ailments got to the point where he ended up missing most of the rest of the season.

Also during the prolonged road swing, Marvell Wynne, a former No. 1 overall draft pick and TFC's quickest defender, developed a groin pull serious enough to sit him out for almost a month.

And finally, on the first day home in a friendly against Aston Villa, all-star midfielder Ronnie O'Brien reinjured a knee that also would require season-ending surgery.

"The injuries in July just killed us," Johnston said yesterday on the eve of the team's final league game today against New England Revolution. "We have never really recovered."

As a result of that accumulation of injuries, TFC went on a record-setting goalless streak that finally ended after 824 minutes of futility.

Gone, too, was any hope the team had of reaching the MLS post-season in its inaugural campaign.

Johnston, however, said there were a lot of positives to come out of the 2007 season, including the emergence of first-overall pick Maurice Edu as a front-line player.

"I'm really proud of Maurice," Johnston said. "He has lived up to all the expectations we had for him."

The tough part will be keeping the 21-year-old in Toronto for any length of time. At least two English Premiership clubs, one being Aston Villa, have expressed interest in him.

Johnston said he is also happy about the progress of several young Canadians -- in particular Nana Attakora-Gyan, Tyler Hemming, Eddie Melo and Andrea Lombardo.

"It's our aim to help develop these kids," he said. "What we would like is that all of the best Canadian players be given a chance to play at home rather than travel overseas to pursue their dreams."

To that end Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., will launch a youth soccer academy early next season to foster home-grown talent.

"We are going to look at how the big teams like Manchester operate their academies when we are in Europe scouting players in the off-season," said Johnston, who then tipped his cap to the fans.

"I've played in many big international games," said the former Scottish national captain. "I get those same kinds of goose bumps coming out to play in front for our fans."


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