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Preki, Johnston fail to produce a winner

Toronto FC fans PI
Toronto fans have deserved better from their management since the club's founding in 2006.
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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 


Four years of losing was enough.

That’s what Toronto FC ownership decided when it fired director of soccer Mo Johnston and head coach Preki on Tuesday. Four years without the playoffs. Four years of painful mediocrity. Four years of disappointed fans filling BMO Field.

Johnson has been in charge of the Canadian club since its creation four years ago and he never succeeded in building the winning club the sold-out crowds at BMO Field deserved. Four coaches in four years and zero playoff appearances made 2010 a win-or-else season for Johnston, who turned to former teammate and close friend Preki to turn things around.

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Preki stepped in and made Toronto FC a tougher team, and a better defensive team, but he couldn’t make it a much better team than it already was. An anemic offense and the absence of a reliable goal scorer continued to plague Toronto, and played a key role in the team’s recent slide. TFC stands five points clear of the playoffs with six games remaining, riding a five-match winless streak capped by an awful 1-0 home loss to lowly D.C. United.

That loss made it clear that this TFC team wasn’t going to do any better than the previous editions, and a rumored falling out between Preki and long-standing Toronto assistant Nick Dasovic threatened to divide the locker room even further.

This isn’t how the season was supposed to go for Toronto. Preki joined the club with a good reputation after a successful stint as head coach of Chivas USA, and his relationship with Johnston figured to help the club move in a steady direction. Unfortunately for Toronto, Preki could only do so much. He did help turn an awful defense into a respectable one, but TFC’s style was ugly and didn’t produce nearly enough results to justify a style few fans could embrace.

Even if Preki wanted to play a wide-open style, Toronto's roster lacked the potent offensive weapons TFC needed to really compete. The club signed Spanish striker Mista, but he struggled to make an impact and eventually fell out of favor with Preki. The inconsistent Chad Barrett showed some signs early in the season, but injuries eventually took their toll. This left Toronto struggling for goals yet again.

The blame for those struggles has to fall in large part to Johnston, who proved himself to be a sharp drafter but who never delivered the type of successful international acquisitions you would have expected from someone with his name recognition and European connections.

So what led to such a monumental decision at this point in the year? It had to be difficult to ignore the growing number of empty seats at BMO Field, where sellout crowds and a five-figure waiting list for season tickets had been the norm. It was clear for all to see that Toronto soccer fans had seen enough losing and had spent enough money supporting a team that didn’t appear to be making any progress.

The next long-term step for Toronto will be finding a head coach and or director of soccer who can do a better job of landing quality international signings, something key to the success of every top team in MLS. For now, the club will turn to long-time assistant Nick Dasovic to try and salvage something from the season. His laid-back demeanor will be a welcome change to a TFC squad that had been worn down by Preki’s abrasive and confrontational style, a style that wore thin with the team’s veterans.

While the moves may not be enough to help Toronto reach the playoffs for the first time in club history this season, they should re-instill some faith in the club by fans who were clearly growing tired of continued mediocrity. Four years of losing was enough, and Toronto has taken a major step toward trying to ensure that a fifth losing year doesn’t happen.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for covering Major League Soccer and U.S. national team.

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