Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In Mo We Trust

After one season as Toronto FC's coach, Mo Johnston has received a great deal of criticism throughout Toronto's large fan base. After guiding the expansion side to a last place finish, fans called for Johnston's head, and demanded he be fired. However if you are in this group, I ask that you rethink your feelings, or at least give some thought to changing your mind.

When the season started, Mo Johnston was already at a disadvantage. Johnston had to fill out his roster with mediocre Canadian players, and not by choice. The players who we would criticize, like Adam Braz, Marco Reda and Miguel Canizalez, are prime examples of Canadian players who probably would not have been on this team, had Johnston's hand not been forced. The one thing that Toronto FC lacked last season was depth on the bench, and it was these bench spots that were filled by the mediocre Canadian players. If Johnston were given an American team, he would have been able to fill those positions with proven MLS players, because the majority of the league is American. With very few Canadian MLS players available, and the MLS not being the most attractive league in the world. Johnston was forced to look in Scandinavia, Montreal, and the lower levels of German football. It is not Johnston's fault that European based players do not want to play in this league, and it is not his fault that he must "help improve the Canadian game", by inserting players who will never develop into impact players for our national team. Johnston is not responsible for Braz, Reda and Canizalez being on our team, the MLS is. With the league loosening its roster restrictions, we will hopefully see more quality on this team.

When it came to building this team with non-Canadian players, Johnston did a very good job. His first major move came with the drafting of Maurice Edu, a player who's impact was larger than anyone expected. Edu stepped into the first team and never looked back, displaying his quality game after game for the Reds. With his next pick, Johnston drafted Andrew Boyens, a player who is often overlooked by fans. As a rookie, Boyens did an admirable job. His performances may not have been stellar, as he made many rookie mistakes, but he showed flashes of a solid defender who can start in this league. Patience needs to be a part of the game when developing players, and not everyone can step in right away and make an impact. Johnston also grabbed Tyler Hemming with the 40th pick in the draft. By the end of the season, Hemming had become and important bench player for TFC, and his solid play earned him praise from fans and management. A player like Hemming is an integral part to a team, and Mo found a very good player in the late rounds of the draft. Not much talent is usually found with the 40th pick, but Hemming looks like a keeper.

Johnston was also able to fill out the rest of his roster with quality players, and was able to get rid of players before problems arose. Conor Casey, Alecko Eskandarian, Jose Cancela and Richard Mulrooney were all brought in, but quickly shipped out. None of these players had a large impact with their next team, and Johnston did well to let them go quickly.

Ronnie O'Brien came into Toronto with big expectations. The Irishman was hailed as the best right sided player in the MLS by Johnston, and he did not disappoint. O'Brien put in fantastic performances for the team, until he went down with injuries. A healthy O'Brien gave Toronto an amazing right sided player, who could set up the attack with his fantastic crosses, pace, and dribbling ability. Having him out of the lineup left a huge whole on the right hand side, and his presence was severely missed. O'Brien is our all star, and when you loose your star your team's quality will deteriorate. O'Brien's presence next season will give Toronto a huge boost, and Toronto fans will finally be able to give praise to Ronnie with a proper chant.

Danny Dichio and Jeff Cunningham were two strikers brought in to play up front for Toronto FC. Dichio came in, and lets face it, people had no idea who this guy was. However, Mo knew exactly what he was getting. A leader on and off the pitch, who gave it his all game in and game out. He also brought toughness and skill, displaying both in memorable moments throughout the season. Johnston found a gem in Dichio, who was also injured throughout most of the season. When he was healthy, defenders could not control the huge target man. Dichio also lost important service in the form of O'Brien, who should help add to Dichio's already legendary status in Toronto when he is healthy for an entire season. Cunningham was stolen from Salt Lake, however something followed him too. Injuries. One of MLS' all time leading goal scorers,Cunningham was walking around with ice on his crotch off the field, and went through significant pain and surgery with Toronto. His performance was severely hindered because of injuries, and a healthy Cunningham should do wonders for Toronto's attack next season.

Mo also brought in two solid defenders, for very little. Marvell Wynne and Todd Dunivant are polar opposites when it comes to playing style, but are similar when it comes to quality. Both were brought into Toronto and made immediate impacts, with Wynne gaining attention from the USMNT and Dunivant turning in solid performance after solid performance. Johnston knows how to spot talent, and he did in Dunivant and Wynne.

Tyron Marshall may not be my, our your favourite player, but his addition was needed last season. Edson Buddle wanted out, and was playing poorly. Johnston needed defensive depth, and picked the physical defender. Marshall may not have been the best pick up, but his impact can be viewed as the same as Buddle. Toronto was trading for positions, and added where they needed help. They needed help in the first place, because of the restrictions that were forced on the team's roster.

Two mistakes, that must be admitted, are Andy Welsh and Collin Samuel. Welsh was not cut out for this league, but Mo got rid of him quickly, and he is no longer a part of our team. Samuel was not as much of a failure, but he still did a very poor job when he entered lineup. A terrible strike rate goes along with a questionable work ethic, and you have to admit that Mo made a mistake. There are some who say that Samuel can bounce back, I don't buy it, but if he were to, it would only add to the argument in favour of Mo. Managers are going to make mistakes, and he made two. One was let go, and the other has stayed. We'll see what becomes of Samuel.

Jim Brennan and Carl Robinson were two key pickups that Johnston made. Brennan was brought in, and became MVP of the team. Very good choice by Mo. Robinson came in, and in my mind was meant to step in as the midfield general. However, Edu grew as a player, and Robinson took a backseat to the rookie. Robbo still turned in sold performances in almost every single game, with only his salary hanging over him as criticism. His role and impact would have fit his salary, had Edu not been so damn good, and please raise your hand if you thought Edu would be as good as he was.

Also, don't forget the fact that we were an expansion team. If you are not familiar with the success of expansion teams throughout history, then check the record books. You're going to find something very similar about their first seasons.

Now we get down to tactics, where Mo is often hit the hardest. I strongly believe that Mo should move up into the press box, and run the team as a general manager. His talent evaluating skills are very good, and his skills would best be suited up top. However, some of the criticism that Mo faces is unfair, as his formations and tactics were messed with once injuries started to pile up. When Mo had a healthy lineup to work with, the team worked pretty damn well. We displayed that with the team that Mo wanted on the pitch, we were very solid. These are the games that we should look at when evaluating Mo. Injuries are a part of the game, but what we had to deal with was extreme and heavily influenced by factors outside of Johnston's control. When you compare the good, to the bad, the good clearly comes out on top. I for one, feel very comfortable with him running our team, which is why I have no fear in saying. In Mo We Trust.

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