Feeling good about TFC turnaround

DEAN MCNULTY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:18 AM ET

Mo Johnston had good reason to smile as he looked out across the expanse of BMO Field yesterday watching his Toronto FC players go through a practice.

A year ago, Johnston was trying to wrestle with having to coach, manage, promote and all but drive the team bus as TFC endured a baptism by fire as Major League Soccer's first expansion franchise outside of the United States.

The club would end up setting records in losses (four to start the season) and in goalless minutes (824), all the while dealing with a rash of injuries that would cripple even an established team.

Johnston, however, never wavered from his mantra of building for the future, even when dealing with the present seemed overwhelming.

He brought in new players by the boatload and sent them packing just as fast. The team appeared to be in constant transition.

This season Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. promoted Johnston to director of soccer -- a sort of super general manager -- and he has all but re-made the team from back to front.

"The way the rules (on rosters) are in this league you can't sit still," Johnston said yesterday, referring to the complex roster rules that MLS imposes on its member sides.

In his new role Johnston began with a bang, hiring former Luton Town coach John Carver to take over duties on the pitch, drafting top prospect Julius James, a defender out of the University of Connecticut; trading popular midfielder Ronnie O'Brien; losing Chris Pozniak in the expansion draft to San Jose and waiving about half a dozen players from last year's squad.

In return, he negotiated the transfer of two key players -- Amado Guevara from Honduras and Laurent Robert from the English premiership -- as well as signing James and Brian Edwards -- a quality backup to starting goalkeeper Greg Sutton.

The new roster now boasts a 3-2-1 record and a four-game undefeated streak after its 1-1 draw last week against Red Bull New York.

"Sure there's a personal satisfaction that the club has improved so much this season," Johnston said. "I love that I can look on the pitch and see players (Maurice Edu, Marvell Wynne and James) that I got in the draft. That's a good feeling.

"I wasn't going to panic after (last season). We are a brand new team; we've only played 36 games."

Johnston also notes that he wasn't the only MLS manager to make changes this season.

"Houston has changed, New England has changed and L.A. is not the same," he said. "There is always movement when you have four rounds in the Superdraft and then another two rounds in the supplementary draft.

"Next season there will be another expansion draft (for Philadelphia) where we're likely to lose another player off our roster."

Johnston said that the changes he made didn't come overnight, but rather were an arduous process as was the case when he grabbed Guevara.

"Signing Amado didn't just happen over a weekend. It was a three-month process," he said. "It was a matter of keeping (the negotiations) quiet and watching what was happening in the Honduran league."

KEEP LOOKING

And while Johnston is certainly happy with the results of his moves, that doesn't mean he's ready to rest on his laurels.

"It's always important that we keep looking at different players. You can never have a set roster year in and year out," he said. "There are five or six MLS teams that have players -- some who are playing, some who aren't -- that I might be interested in signing. We are still looking for a striker."


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