Bad luck, not bad management, is why Toronto FC finds itself in crisis this week, says director of soccer Mo Johnston.
While his bosses at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. took the blame yesterday for "screwing up" details of the Real Madrid exhibition game during a state of the union meeting with the media, Johnston vigorously defended his three years on the job and still believes it's a playoff-worthy team this year. But message boards from the three main supporters' clubs the past week and some media outlets have been full of calls for his removal. After a decent start to what was seen as a breakout year for the side, TFC is on its second coach and seems it's spinning its wheels.
"Things were coming along and then the last three games have been a big hiccup," Johnston agreed. "We're under-achieving. But we're looking a new avenues (of players) every day."
The biggest complaints levelled against him is that his roster hasn't played to potential and he's failed to put out for a designated player, as Major League Soccer calls its stars. Nor has he produced an established centre back to organize the team's leaky defence.
He was forced into a move along those lines this week when injuries to Jim Brennan, Nana Attakora and Marvell Wynne's continued absence with the U.S. national team, prompted a trade with San Jose for Nick Garcia.
But Johnston claimed he was thwarted in his hunt for impact players in the off-season.
"(Former coach) John Carver and I had a player from Poland lined up (possibly veteran national Jacek Bak) and another team came in and blew us out of the water," Johnston said. "I went after a Canadian (believed to be defensive midfielder Julian De Guzman) with a hell of a lot of money and he turned it down.
"There's not been a major signing, but I never promised it, either. We did bring in (Torontonians) Dwayne De Rosario and Adrian Serioux. Those were big coups."
But coach Chris Cummins is still looking for the right place to utilize De Rosario, while not disrupting leading scorer Amado Guevara.
As for the ongoing struggles of Chad Barrett and the scoreless Pablo Vitti up front, Johnston as much as threw up his hands.
"We should be scoring a lot more," Johnston said, saying that Barrett might be out of sorts in a 3-4-3 as third striker on the left rather than middle. Both Barrett and Vitti are not responding well to the heat in soccer-mad Toronto.
"(Ex-Reds) Edson Buddle and Conor Casey ... the fans got on them and they went in a shell. They go to play in the U.S. and now they score goals for fun. Brian Burke once told me anyone can play for the Columbus Blue Jackets, but bring them to Toronto and (they could wilt)."
But Johnston proudly pointed to the success of draft picks Sam Cronin, Stefan Frei and the potential of injured pick O'Brian White to excel up front. Most importantly, he hopes to sign Canadian forward Ali Gerba, whose rights were acquired in the Garcia deal, by next week.
Also at yesterday's meeting was Tom Anselmi, executive vice-president and COO of MLSEL. He said real grass at BMO was going to be a reality by 2011 -- at his company's expense -- but it can't be put in motion until the autumn when their obligations to the city for a year-round playing surface can be settled.