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Toronto FC soccer club head coach Mo Johnston listens to a question during a news conference in Toronto on Monday Jan. 15, 2007. (CP PHOTO/Frank Gunn) (Frank Gunn)
Toronto FC soccer club head coach Mo Johnston listens to a question during a news conference in Toronto on Monday Jan. 15, 2007. (CP PHOTO/Frank Gunn) (Frank Gunn)

Jeff Blair

Pointing the finger at Mo Add to ...

J.P. Ricciardi is gone, but lucky for Mo Johnston, he can still get up every morning and thank God that he has Brian Burke and Bryan Colangelo to provide cover.

I don't know how else the man keeps his job after Saturday. Do you?

Toronto is not a picky sports city any more. The teams combined are - what? - 1-16-1 this month, not including the Raptors' preseason? No significant pro franchise has made the playoffs since the Raptors lost in the first round in 2008. The Argos last appeared in 2007 - first-round loss - and the Maple Leafs in 2004. The Blue Jays have been shut out since 1993. Even the Buffalo Bills have caught the Toronto disease until recently.

But even in this bleakest of sporting autumns, the stuff you hear about the poisonous atmosphere around Toronto FC is remarkable. And you'd be hard pressed to find a more devastated group after it was embarrassed 5-0 by the New York Red Bulls at Giants Stadium on Saturday.

Yeah, yeah, the 16 goals leaked by TFC in the last 15 minutes of matches this season suggests they blew a playoff spot long before their final game of the season. Point taken. Still, to come out in the biggest game in the three-year history of the franchise and stink this badly? Against a poor team? That's unacceptable. That's unforgivable - and totally worthy of making somebody pay other than Chris Cummins, who looked Saturday like a guy who needed a hug more than a new contract and sounded like he'd take the hug over the contract any day.

"Gutted" was the word used repeatedly in the TFC dressing room. Rookie Sam Cronin said pointedly that the team needed "a culture change and a psychological overhaul." You don't get that out of Luke Schenn. Dwayne De Rosario, meanwhile, said: "I want to see more heart on this team. How do you teach that? You tell me. I could have came in here and kicked everything down but what's that going to prove. I've done it many times and there's been no response. Been there and done that."

Cummins came as close as any coach I've been around to publicly telling his bosses to shove their job. "Listen, I was asked to come in and do a job until the end of the season and that's what I've done," Cummins said. "I've made mistakes all the way, the same as everyone else. Will I be here next year? Listen, there's a fair chance I won't be. My family's back in the U.K. and I need to be near my family. They came out with me when I first came out and unfortunately there was things promised me that I didn't get at the end of it."

Cummins wouldn't reveal the nature of those promises, but he doesn't strike anybody as a guy who'd pull something out of his butt just to make a point. (Strategy included.) Mostly, he seems like a decent guy put in a situation for which he would have been wholly unprepared even if he wasn't having his legs cut out from under him.

TFC is a cozy little niche money maker for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and in players such as De Rosario, Cronin, Julian de Guzman, O'Brian White and - when he isn't throwing his arms in the air in exasperation - Amado Guevara, this franchise isn't exactly bereft. Yet time and again, TFC has been done in by a lack of a commanding defender.

Burke hasn't been able to find a goalie, Colangelo's backcourt has been soft, Ricciardi ran through an entire 25-man roster in search of a shortstop during eight years - and Johnston hasn't been able to find that defensive stopper. It has crushed this team, and while the savvier segments of this extremely engaged fan base seem to have seen through Johnston, the words of MLSE executive vice-president and chief operating officer Tom Anselmi suggests Mo won't go. In other words: Enjoy that new grass field in 2010!

"Yeah, yeah. Absolutely, yeah," Anselmi responded when he was asked whether Johnston would be returning.

"You know, it's Year 3," said Anselmi, as TFC slinked out of its dressing room. "First year? Twenty-something points. Next year? Thirty-something points. Third year? Thirty-nine points, lots of good young players and something to build upon. So that part of it is good … but this didn't feel good at all tonight."

No it didn't, and that's on Mo Johnston. He's the guy who established this culture and psychology. Is he the one to change it? Doubtful. Extremely doubtful.

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