FC set for star gazing

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd. board of directors have given their stamp of approval to Toronto FC's quest for a designated player -- a marquee player that doesn't count against their salary cap.

Tom Anselmi, MLSEL's executive vice-president and chief operating officer, said yesterday that the team had all of its requests approved for the upcoming Major League Soccer season after a presentation to the board at the Air Canada Centre.

"We presented our plan for the 2009 season and they approved that plan," Anselmi said. "The board doesn't get into approving every little piece but they approved what we asked for and included in that was a plan to sign a DP."

He warned, however, that the decision is still a ways off.

Anselmi pointed to teams like the Los Angeles Galaxy and D.C. United who have gone after big-money DPs -- David Beckham and Marcelo Gallardo -- only to find themselves out of the MLS playoff picture

"(The board's) approval doesn't mean we are going to go out and sign the first guy available," he said.

He said that TFC's director of soccer, Mo Johnston, has a plan and it is to go slowly in order to get the best player for the team.

"We are approaching it really cautiously. It's not a guaranteed success. We have the resources and Mo has had a clear plan right from the start: Get the right guy at the right time at the right price. And it must make the team better."

Anselmi also sees that as the team enters its third MLS season in 2009 the fans must be shown that management is serious about improving the product on the pitch.

"(The board) discussed the DP at length. We recommended that as a team now entering its third season there are improvements that are needed every year," he said. "And the DP position is now something we have to consider."

It's not like the Reds rabid fans are about to abandon ship, even after two struggling seasons out of post-season play.

Anselmi said that the team has a 95% renewal rate on the 2009 season tickets and has a waiting list that has grown to more than 13,000.

"It's remarkable but we can't take anything for granted," he said.

One of the things the team is counting on is the maturing of some of the club's young players like Abdus Ibrahim, Marvell Wynne and Julius Jones into MLS all-stars.

"We've got five or six young, first-round picks on the roster and we've got three first-round picks in next year's draft," Anselmi said.

"Mo's plan from the get-go was to not fall into the trap of most expansion teams of giving away a lot of assets to try to get good as quickly as possible. The plan was to accumulate assets and to build from the ground up.

"Hopefully next season we start to see that strategy pay off."

One of the players Johnston had an eye on to fill the DP spot was 25-year-old Canadian international Iain Hume, a top striker in the League Championship with Barnsley.

But Hume was badly injured Sunday in a match against Sheffield United in which he suffered a fractured skull and internal bleeding after being elbowed in the face by Sheffield captain Chris Morgan.

It's doubtful Hume -- who signed a $2.2 million contract earlier this season -- will be able to resume play before next season.


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