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Toronto FC soccer coach Predrag (Preki) Radosavlijevic, right, and Toronto FC Director of Soccer Mo Johnston, left, shake hands at a press conference on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009 in Toronto. (Nathan Denette)
Toronto FC soccer coach Predrag (Preki) Radosavlijevic, right, and Toronto FC Director of Soccer Mo Johnston, left, shake hands at a press conference on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009 in Toronto. (Nathan Denette)

Toronto FC cleans house Add to ...

While Maurice Edu was busy helping Glasgow Rangers earn a creditable Champions League draw at Manchester United on Tuesday, half a world and multiple time zones away, the man who made him the first draft pick in Toronto FC's short history was busy packing his bags.

With Toronto FC's postseason hopes rapidly going down the drain for a fourth consecutive season, team owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment decided to pull the plug on the Mo Johnston era Tuesday, removing both the director of soccer and his first-year head coach, Predrag (Preki) Radosavljevic, in one fell swoop, replacing them with assistant coach Nick Dasovic and manager of team operations Earl Cochrane on an interim basis.

In many ways the drafting of Edu - in January of 2007 - was the high point of the Johnston era. At a time of giddy optimism spurred on by the promise of the return of top-level professional soccer to Canada, watching Edu's maturation into a fully fledged U.S. international player, before his big-money move to Scotland in 2008, and Danny Dichio's goals - all six of them that inaugural season - was something the supporters could cling to while the team struggled for on-field success.

Three years later little has changed with regards to on-field success. The playoffs remain uncharted territory, and save for back-to-back Canadian Championships, competing against the lower-league Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact, Johnston had run out of chances.

"It just did not feel right," MLSE executive vice-president Tom Anselmi said Tuesday. "And I think what we were seeing was reflected in the play of the team over the last several weeks. It just felt like it was heading in the wrong direction. I don't want to say we were indecisive last year, but we didn't make the call last year and we knew we needed to make the call this year."

Last year was the closest that TFC came to making the postseason during Johnston's tenure, and but for a season-ending 5-0 whitewash in New York by Major League Soccer's worst team at the time, the Red Bulls, they would have done so. Despite calls for Johnston's head then, MLSE stood firm, responding instead by allowing interim coach Chris Cummins to leave and replacing him with Preki, a one-time MLS coach of the year and Johnston's former teammate with both Everton in the English Premier League and the Kansas City Wizards, with whom the two combined to win the 2000 MLS Cup.

Preki's addition was supposed to put TFC over the top, but despite an overhaul of players - which included the departures of fan favourite Amado Guevara and 2009 second overall draft pick Sam Cronin - the club is currently five points out of the playoff position, with a record of 7-10-7, giving Preki the same winning percentage in MLS play as former TFC coach John Carver (29 per cent).

"I think we felt we were a step away and the right head coach and a couple of moves would help get us there, but obviously in hindsight that wasn't correct," Anselmi said of the decision to stay the course heading into the 2010 season.

Last Saturday's 1-0 home loss to D.C. United - this year's basement club - may well have been the straw that broke the camel's back with regards to the Johnston-Preki duo, with fans in uproar at a loss that makes the playoffs a long shot once again.

"You never make a decision like this based on a game, but it may have helped accelerate the thinking a little bit," Anselmi said.

The players certainly felt the time had come to make a change in the coaching ranks.

"Being able to express yourself and feel free on and off the pitch means a lot," said midfielder Julian de Guzman, "and that's something that was missing in the group with Preki being involved."

And the supporters, who made their feelings known at the end of the loss to D.C. United, were of similar mind.

Boris Aguilar, president of the Red Patch Boys supporters club, called the team's decision "the most important move that they've made in their existence," although Anselmi denied that the timing had anything to do with the renewal of season-tickets - which will include entry to this year's MLS Cup final in Toronto and an additional two home league games next year - a process that is set to begin in the next few weeks.

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