It's time for TFC to sign a star

GARETH WHEELER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

Welcome to Toronto, Chad Barrett.

The 23-year old striker was the eventual acceptable ransom for TFC, ending the protracted Brian McBride trade saga. The former Fulham talisman, McBride got his wish to play in Chicago, giving the Fire (pardon the pun) some serious fire power once he returns from Olympic duty.

As for Barrett, his inclusion in the deal reeked of apparent desperation by Toronto FC. Barrett's name hadn't emerged in any trade rumours, with TFC reportedly more interested in striker Chris Rolfe and/or talented midfielder Justin Mapp.

But Mo Johnston had little choice other than to make a move. Pressure from the commissioner's office, a manager calling out his own players, an impatient fan base, and frustration amongst players themselves forced Mo's hand.

Barrett is no slouch. He led the Fire with seven goals in 2007 and has led them in scoring with five thus far in 2008. But Barrett was a constant scapegoat for Chicago's offensive struggles as he, much like a current TFC player, fell into the bad habit of missing easy chances.

CLOCK IS TICKING

Regardless, when Barrett arrives, he will help a weak TFC frontline, and the team says this is just the first move of many. But the clock is ticking for Johnston, with the transfer window open for only another two weeks and change.

Johnston's No. 1 priority should be to bring in a designated player. Nicknamed the Beckham Rule, the Designated Player Rule was adopted by MLS in 2007 and allows each franchise to sign one player that would be considered outside of the salary cap, letting teams compete for star players in the international market.

Johnston and TFC brass always have said they will spend what it takes to bring in a designated player when the time is right. However, the fact remains that the DP should have been brought in at the start of this season. It would have been the perfect way to build momentum gained from the emerging fan base that suffered through a miserable product on the field in the franchise's first season.

Johnston has been building towards bringing in a prized piece through other transactions. His many dealings have fetched various kinds of assets, including draft picks, cash allotments, and designated and/or international player spots.

And give him credit; Johnston's moves have markedly improved the squad from last season without scrapping the gameplan of stockpiling assets. TFC now is in a very good position, having a ton of ammunition Johnston can use to make the team better. Mo can have all the assets in the world at his disposal, but if he doesn't use them, they are useless. Fans don't care about designated player spots, they care about designated players.

Many fans I spoke with during all-star week made it clear that if the product doesn't get better, TFC is in danger of losing them. And they blame ownership.

Fans in Toronto tie failures on the playing field directly to ownership. And for Torontonians, struggling on the field while making money hand over fist is what many believe Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. represents.

To be fair, it's too early to blame MLSEL for TFC's struggles. But if supporters don't think the club is committed to winning, their commitment to the club will waver.

Commissioner Don Garber can call TFC the league's model franchise all he wants, but if a culture of winning isn't created, the franchise will suffer.

If MLSEL wants to dispel any notion that they aren't committed to winning, they will step up and demand that the team signs a designated player. After all, this is an company that will pay Jeff Finger $3.5 million a year on the hockey side. God forbid they spend half that on a soccer player!

This kind of move has to be done now if the club expects to compete for a playoff spot.

Does Johnston have the footballing connections and organizational backing to bring in the designated player the team so desperately needs? Or will TFC supporters suffer through a second half of the season with the same cast of characters that has been the epitome of mediocrity?

TFC is a special club, and special players are needed.


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