Mo fuss at TFC's motives

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:36 AM ET

The once-happy marriage between Toronto FC management and thousands of its fans is being strained to the point of a possible divorce.

But the target of much of the ire, general manager Mo Johnston, received a vote of confidence from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., yesterday.

A revolt from three of the main supporters clubs came to a head during Saturday's third straight team loss, underlining discontent about an expensive friendly with Real Madrid, the turf problems at BMO Field and the perceived lack of progress by Johnston in his third year with the club.

Top officials from the Red Patch Boys, North End Elite and U Sector maintain they're still behind the players -- prompting them to call a Friday meeting with coach Chris Cummins and team captain Jim Brennan to tip them about Saturday's protest and assure them the action was levelled at management. In attendance on Friday was director of business operations Paul Beirne, who'd helped foster the strong ties with an estimated 16,000 season-ticket holders since 2007, but listened to the three groups' complaints.

On Saturday, most of the 500-strong Red Patch Boys didn't wear team colours, were noticably absent from their loud south stands perch at the start of the game, displayed a huge banner mocking MLSEL's losing sports properties and staged a Gate 3 protest after the 2-1 defeat to Los Angeles.

The smaller NEE club, joined the RPB in hiding their red gear and walked out en masse after the national anthems. A mix of U Sector also participated in both actions.

"The honeymoon is over...it's clear that things are not the same as in Year 1," said Pedro Almeida, a founder of the NEE. "I have TFC in my heart, but I'm seeing lower numbers of our fans going to road games and that means it could drop at home, too. They might have sold (20,753) tickets Saturday, but I have to wonder if that many people were there."

Both Almeida and Jack DePoe, president of the RPB, said the Real Madrid game is the flashpoint of their ire, from its secretive announcement, exclusion from the season ticket package, the one-time tease of real grass to satisfy the Spaniards, the high ticket prices and the re-scheduling hassles it caused.

"We had nine guys out for a game against Chivas USA last year with international duty and so on and they wouldn't re-schedule," DePoe said. "Now along comes Real Madrid in a game that means nothing, they move up the New York Red Bulls to this Saturday, when we have a big (Nutrilite Canadian Championship) game against Montreal coming up."

Almeida and DePoe also raised concerns about the team's direction under Johnston, director of soccer for two years after coaching TFC's inaugural season. The club's overall record is 19-35-19.

Johnston has come under attack for not delivering some help in the backfield -- now underlined by injuries to Brennan and Marvell Wynne's just announced extended absence with the U.S. national team -- and for Chad Barrett's poor showing at striker. Johnston declined comment, promising to address all issues tomorrow.

DePoe said his group is concerned about the "mixed message" about signing a star designated player.

"I thought it was a suspicious coincidence that talk of a designated player began at the time of season-ticket renewals," he said. "If Mo never promised he'd sign one, his coach (the departed John Carver) did. I don't want Mo out, I just want him to bring in the players he said he would."

Tom Anselmi, executive vice-president and COO of MLSEL, said "the passion of our fans is clearly noted," but backed Johnston.

"People should just relax a bit and put things into context. We're 13 games in and not far from first place. Mo is doing what a good GM should; build assets with up and coming quality kids. He certainly has the ability to look at a DP, but you need the right guy at the right time. (The wrong one) ties up cap space and there is statistical evidence that those players haven't had a huge impact on a team."


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