TORONTO - From the time of Toronto FC's inception in Major League Soccer in 2007 to when he was fired last week, Mo Johnston was the face of the franchise in several facets.
As the organization's first coach, Johnston's task was to guide the young club through the pitfalls of a first season and build for the future.
The results were mixed. With only six wins in 30 games, the club under Johnston was less than competitive. TFC experienced long stretches of ineptitude in front of the opponent's goal, allowing them to break two unflattering MLS record for the longest goal-less streak at 824 minutes and the longest goal- less streak to begin the season at 558 minutes.
Such results on other teams would have culminated in the axing of the club's manager.
In this case, however, quite the opposite happened. Not only was Johnston kept on as the coach, he was promoted to Director of Football Operations for the TFC.
The former Celtic player quickly installed John Carver as Toronto's new manager for the 2008 season (Carver resigned in April of 2009), and began to gain the reputation as 'Trader Mo' due to his penchant for making trades with other MLS clubs.
Acquiring Canadian players was also something Johnston had a knack for. During his tenure, he was able to bring in the likes of Jim Brennan, Adrian Serioux, Julian De Guzman and Dwayne De Rosario to make the club more appealing to watch on a national level.
With each passing year, expectations of the club's future grew amongst the staunch supporters of the franchise.
Positive results, though, were hard to come by and year after year household changes were made by Johnston with little success.
While Johnston was able to uncover a folk hero in England's Danny Dichio early in the club's existence, the same couldn't be said for international players. The likes of Laurent Robert, Rohan Ricketts and Collin Samuel proved to be unequivocal failures.
Toronto FC's defense has been nothing but a revolving door every season.
These consistency issues seemed to hit a breaking point after a 1-0 home loss this season to last-place DC United, which prompted Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment executive Tom Anselmi to finally relieve Johnston and current coach Preki Radosavljevic of their duties on September 14.
Whether or not the current club manages to make the playoffs this season, whoever takes over the position as Director of Football Operations will need to learn from Johnston's mistakes.
Though a great admirer of Canadian talent, Johnston was never able to acquire players of great international pedigree like other clubs. Teams such as New York and Chicago have been able to bring in the likes of Brian McBride, Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez, all of whom had accomplished careers in Europe and in McBride's case, was one of the United States' greatest players ever.
Johnston's bigger transactions seemed focused on acquiring top-notch Canadian talent and gambling on fringe European players to steer the sinking Toronto FC ship.
A perfect example of that was the signing of Mista, who had been on a steady decline in the Spanish La Liga since 2006. While the former Deportivo La Coruna player had his moments early in his career, he was never considered a legitimate star player in the Spanish League.
His current performances for TFC have been lacking, to say the least, and he may soon join the likes of Robert, Ricketts and Samuel as MLS failures.
With Johnston no longer in charge of the day-to-day operations of the club, the door is open for a new philosophy to come to the forefront, one not solely based on bringing in the best Canadian talent available, but rather building a team capable of competing with the best the MLS has to offer.
Indeed, TFC - much like the two other major sports franchises owned by MLSE - find themselves at a crossroads, one that could lead them to prosperity or into even greater depths of despair.
One thing is clear though, the opportunity is there. Now, it's about execution.