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Toronto Star 10 to watch in 2007--Mo Johnston

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In Sunday Toronto Star cover story "10 to watch in 2007".

written by Tim Lai who was the Star reporter in the TFC tryouts.


Coach of Toronto FC

TheStar.com - News - Mo Johnston

Mo Johnston

Coach of Toronto FC

December 31, 2006

Tim Lai


In his office overlooking the train tracks disappearing into Union Station, Mo Johnston surfs Internet message boards to see what people are posting about the expansion soccer club he leads. Some of the speculation about potential players is dead-on, he concedes, but some posts aren't even close.

So far, there's been very little discussion about him – no backseat coaches questioning his moves.

"Well, we're still unbeaten," says the 43-year-old Scot with a hearty chuckle.

Although Toronto FC already boasts what some are calling a Canadian shield on the back end, the look, feel and play of the squad will remain a giant question mark until it hits the pitch in the spring.

During his 20 years as a player, including stints in the Celtics, the Rangers and the Kansas City Wizards, Johnston was known to be aggressive. Not surprisingly, he's promised Toronto FC will be an attacking, and entertaining, club.

Not only is he making the player decisions, but Johnston has also been out carousing with the fans in local pubs (he's partial to a Kir Royale or a glass of pinot grigio), generating buzz about his club from the ground up.

He realizes there are hurdles in the fickle Toronto sports market, but hopes his style and philosophy can help this club flourish. "I don't want my players just sitting back and taking the money," Johnston says. "I want them to be able to reach out.

"There's a lot of coaches that keep their door closed and don't talk to the media and don't talk to the fans – I'm not like that."

The son of a soccer player, Johnston started playing professionally in his native Glasgow when he was 16. Before coming to Toronto in the summer, he coached Red Bull New York.

He's determined to take his time as he builds this franchise. "Overseas, it's 24-7 in your face, and I don't like that," says Johnston, whose wife and four children remain based in Kansas City. "I like having my down time because I can sit down and think."

His goal is success not only for Toronto, but also for Canada's national team, which is currently battered by a drop in its ranking. As a former international player – he made 38 appearances for his native country – Johnston knows the honour that comes with donning a country's jersey.

"Certain coaches don't release players for national team games," Johnston observes. "I'm not like that." He says that as soon as Toronto FC players achieve national-team status, the Canadian team is free to use them, even if it means they miss a crucial game.

Johnston is grateful that Canadian soccer officials have created a close partnership with Toronto FC, building the brand new stadium on the CNE grounds, BMO Field, on short notice – something not many countries would do.

His team will more than likely be one of the younger ones in the league. It's an ongoing project – three or four years in the making. He hopes to attract players in their mid-20s and develop them here through their prime. The Beckhams and Figos of the world, who are in the twilight of their careers, will not be suiting up for Toronto.

That says a lot about his belief in a strong and lasting foundation – something not too surprising for a man who spends every waking moment thinking and breathing soccer.

"I won't stop until I get it right," he says. "Nothing else."

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