Toronto FC names interim coach, GM after firings
TORONTO, Ont. - Problems remain for Toronto FC, despite a dramatic housecleaning Tuesday designed to salvage something from the waning Major League Soccer season.
Overhauling a dated management structure, establishing a long-term vision, building a staff to execute that strategy -- not to mention scoring goals -- are all issues the struggling club must address to move forward in a new direction.
But by firing director of soccer Mo Johnston and coach Preki -- and replacing them on an interim basis with Earl Cochrane, TFC's manager of team operations, and assistant coach Nick Dasovic -- the club is turning down the simmering tension in its locker-room.
The hope is the disgruntled players who chafed under Preki's strict and unpopular ways can make an unlikely run at the four-year-old franchise's first ever playoff spot, before a more comprehensive reorganization takes place once the campaign ends.
"What we had seen over the last several weeks was (that) the team was heading in the wrong direction but it was even bigger than that. The situation was not right, that's the best way I can describe it," said Tom Anselmi, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment.
"In hindsight we had the wrong two guys, and now we've got to do a real thorough search and find the right guy to lead this club, and really have a vision for where this club wants to go next, and what it needs from a total infrastructure standpoint."
Toronto FC (7-10-7) still has six games left in the MLS season plus four more in the CONCACAF Champions League, so there is still an opportunity, thought a small one, to avoid total disaster. The team is five points back of Seattle and San Jose, and six behind Colorado for the final three MLS playoff spots.
Scoring goals has been one of its primary problems, as its total of 22 is second-worst in the 16-team league.
TFC stars Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman confirmed the relationship between the players and their ex-coach was a troubled one.
De Rosario acknowledged that "sometimes it definitely did affect us in the games" while de Guzman went further, saying "we had our moments where a lot of the guys weren't on the same page as him."
Asked to explain, de Guzman replied: "Going into games and not being able to express themselves the way they would like to. Not even just players, speaking on behalf of pretty much the entire staff, you'd feel the environment not 110 per cent positive the way a club would need to be if they want to be successful at any level of this game. Being able to express yourself and feel free on and off the pitch meant a lot and that's something that was missing in the group with Preki being involved."
Dasovic, a former Canadian international who is similarly demanding but more fun-loving, is expected to change the tone, particularly by loosening the reins on players like De Rosario and de Guzman.
"The one big thing is to get the guys relaxed a little bit, get them to enjoy the football," said Dasovic. "I want guys like Julian and De Ro and all our big players to enjoy and express themselves, play like they can play. ...
"It's not rocket science, it's just dedication, hard work and everyone pulling for each other."
Dasovic becomes the fifth man to serve as head coach in Toronto FC's nearly four-year history. Johnston was the first, followed by John Carver, Chris Cummins and Preki.
The latter three all left amid turmoil, and behind-the-scenes drama has been a staple of the club's dysfunction. Yet, Dasovic is unfazed.
"I've worked in the (Canadian Soccer Association) before as a coach, and it's always been a difficult struggle," he said with a grin. "So I'm looking forward to this challenge."
Preki was hired last November after Cummins, an interim replacement for Carver, walked away from the club because his family couldn't obtain work visas in Canada.
He left talking about "bad apples" in the dressing room and the need for more "good characters," two issues Johnston tried to downplay at the time.
A 5-0 loss in TFC's season finale at New York cost it a chance at the playoffs, but Johnston was given a reprieve. Anselmi now admits that was a miscalculation.
"I think we thought we were a step away and the right head coach and a couple of moves would help get you there," he said. "Obviously in hindsight that was incorrect, so we're being decisive today."
The tipping point came Saturday, when Toronto FC lost 1-0 to visiting D.C. United, the worst team in the league. The team carries a six-game winless streak, including MLS and Champions League play, into Wednesday's game at Real Salt Lake.
"I'm looking forward to the change and looking forward to pushing this team to the playoffs," said De Rosario. "Sometimes what you're accustomed to doing at other clubs, some other coaches don't like those type of behaviours.
"Preki definitely ran a tight ship and I don't think a lot of the players adapted to that. Nick obviously wants to loosen it up a little bit, let guys enjoy their play, and I think the guys will definitely respond to the way he wants us to play."
How that turns out will close the book on the work of Johnston, as Cochrane said that "no changes will be made" to the team between now and season's end.
Johnston, long on the hot seat, had been with the club since Day 1, first as head coach before taking over as director of soccer. He repeatedly turned over the roster, never finding the right mix, and hired Preki, with whom he played at Everton and Kansas City.
In a statement, Johnston praised the team's fans, saying: "I believe these supporters and this club will be the driving force in the growth of soccer in Canada. The establishment of this club will prove to be the turning point in the development of this sport."
Anselmi will lead the search for his replacement, and will lean on the league and team sources to help identify candidates. One thing that will be closely examined is how front-office structures have evolved over time.
"Four years ago, pretty much every team was led by a head coach slash GM who kind of did it all," said Anselmi. "In the last four years, every club has invested in more front office staff and more infrastructure.
"The resources are there, the next step is to find the right guy to take those resources and make it go forward."