Sports

First Toronto FC coach predicted success, it just took longer than expected

TORONTO — Mo Johnston believed in Toronto FC from the get-go, holding out high hopes before the MLS expansion franchise ever kicked a ball.

''We're going to have a very, very good team, right from the word go,'' Johnston, Toronto's first head coach, told a 2006 news conference. ''(Real) Salt Lake City and Chivas, yes, were very poor in their first year. It's not going to happen here.''

Chivas USA went 4-22-6 in its first year in 2005 while Real Salt Lake was only slightly better at 5-22-5.

Sadly, Toronto went 6-17-7 in its first year and, while there were successes, there was more pain to come. It took TFC five seasons to register 10 road wins.

Johnston stepped down as coach after the 2007 season, handing the reins to John Carver. Johnston served as director of soccer until he, along with coach Predrag (Preki) Radosavljevic, was fired in September 2010.

Johnston may have been off on his timing on the team's success but he got the ball rolling. And the former Scottish international hasn't forgotten his old team, which has won its way to the MLS Cup final Dec. 10 against the Seattle Sounders.

"I wish TFC all the very best in the final," Johnston said by email Thursday while declining a interview request.

Johnston left the club six years ago with a comment that could still prove to come true.

''I believe these supporters and this club will be the driving force in the growth of soccer in Canada," he said in a parting statement. "The establishment of this club will prove to be the turning point in the development of this sport.''

Under Carver and Johnston, Toronto rebounded for a 9-13-8 record in 2008 and 10-11-9 in 2009, with Carver giving way to Chris Cummins. The 39 points collected in 2009 stood as a franchise record until 2014's 41 (Toronto had 53 points this season).

The team was 7-10-7 in 2010 when Johnston and Preki were canned.

While the expansion team struggled in Season 1, Johnston was a gregarious ambassador happy to sell the team off the pitch.

Toronto FC opened its debut season with 14,000 season tickets sold, which led the league — surpassing even the Los Angeles Galaxy, the soon-to-be future home of former England captain David Beckham.

''Without doubt there's more buzz and anticipation with this team than any other in our history,'' commissioner Don Garber said prior to the 2007 season kickoff.

The team has 18,700 season ticket-holders this season, with the hope of exceeding 20,000 next year.

Almost 10 years on, Garber was at BMO Field to watch Wednesday's finale of the Toronto-Montreal Eastern Conference final.

Asked about how long it found TFC to find success on the field, he reflected on his 17 years at the league and 33 years in sports.

"It's hard, it really is difficult to build a successful team ... Here in Toronto, they've had their fits and starts but they've finally got it right," Garber said. "One thing everybody should know, it was never out of lack of interest."

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