Sources at Toronto FC have confirmed that Designated Player Mista was in a fit after being substituted at halftime of Saturdayís loss against the New York Red Bulls.
After the game, TFC head coach Preki said bringing Mista out of the game was a tactical move, as the Spaniard had a difficult go of it in the first 45 minutes. Preki went on to say Mista was dealing with ďissuesĒ concerning his health and that his high-priced striker may not make the trip to Panama for TFCís CONCACAF Champions League game Tuesday.
The suggestion that Mista is, or was, injured seems to be a complete fabrication.
Mista did not return to the bench after halftime, raising an immediate red flag. Ten minutes into the second half, I questioned a TFC official about whether the Spaniard had picked up an injury.
After looking into the situation, I was told there was no injury to speak of.
ďNope, not injured. I think heís showering,Ē the official said.
So either Mista picked up an injury in the shower or Preki is not telling the truth.
The real truth suggests the latter. The extent of the bust-up between Mista and Preki hasnít been disclosed, but Mista not returning to the sidelines suggests a major rift between player and coach.
But sources tell me Mista will make the trip to Panama.
That being said, the look on Prekiís face when rightly questioned by the media about substituting Mista was worth a thousand words. It was a look of sheer disgust, a ďwho needs him,Ē anyway look.
This is Prekiís mantra ó itís his way or the highway. And while Mista isnít going anywhere, he certainly is the latest casualty.
TFC players and brass have understandingly done proper damage control, nipping any issue in the bud. The quick reaction speaks to the newfound leadership inside TFCís locker room. As well as the fact that TFC needs Mista for the stretch drive and Mista needs TFC to revive his career. And the fact that Mista seems happy with the city and the club ó until now ó bodes well for a positive resolution.
Mistaís halftime substitution was a poor tactical decision from the get-go, with TFC down to a division rival at home and needing goals. Mista is one of only two TFC players ó Dwayne De Rosario being the other ó that can changed the outcome of a game. So if Preki is truthful in saying the substitution was tactical, eyebrows should be raised.
To think midfielder Jacob Peterson could have a bigger impact on proceedings than Mista, coming off his best performance as a Red, is disconcerting. And if Preki wanted to replace a striker, it should have been OíBrian White.
If sending a message to Mista was the intent, Preki got it all wrong. The player didnít need a slap in the face and the team, battling for points and playoff position, didnít need an inferior XI on the field.
Mista doesnít need to be bullied. He doesnít need to be shown up either. Heís played for some of the top clubs in the world and understands what needs to be done to win.
The first half may have not been his finest, but Mista did have TFCís best scoring opportunity and was regularly finding space in the Red Bulls back line, but he did not receive the ball.
It seems whenever former Deportivo La Coruna teammate Julian de Guzman isnít on the field, Mista hasnít been involved. This has to do with service and players trying to get their target-man into the game. De Guzman, having played with the best in the world, understands that to keep a talented player effective, you have to get them involved. On numerous occasions Saturday, Mista was left visibly and vocally frustrated with his teammates.
This isnít the first time Preki has had trouble dealing with talented, yet fiery players. The coach infamously clashed with former TFC midfielder Amado Guevara while at Chivas USA, eventually winning out when Guevara was sent packing.
This time, Preki and TFC can ill-afford to lose Mista. Prekiís notion that hard work will create goals will only take this team so far. Itís composure and the quality of elite players that separates good teams from the great.