With veteran Danny Dichio and ex-Chicago forward Chad Barrett already locked in for 2009, Johnston is aiming to add more potent experience up front. White won’t be ready for the start of the campaign due to rehabilitation from a cruciate ligament injury but neither Johnston nor head coach John Carver have any concerns about the long term prognosis, either in terms of his physical recovery or White’s ability to make the grade in MLS.
“O’Brian White’s going to be a tremendous player for TFC,” Johnston told me on the telephone from St. Louis after the five draft picks had been made, adding he and Carver “got the guys we wanted” in terms of college graduates.
Johnston, though, is looking farther afield in his quest to improve the team’s attacking options.
“I’m very close to signing a South American striker.” he explained “The negotiations are underway, I believe we’re at a number which is doable – and hopefully we can get him on board. After that, a defender - I’m done and I’m going home”
He didn’t elaborate on who that player might be but perhaps his scouting trip to the Southern Hemisphere at the back end of 2008 is about to bear fruit. Clearly there is an urgent need to augment the front line; Toronto FC scored only 34 goals last year – only MLS expansion team San Jose was less productive with regard to putting the ball in the back of the net.
Dichio is a fan favourite – his place in the history of the franchise already assured – but Danny’s 34-year-old legs aren’t getting any younger. Barrett showed glimpses of what might be possible during the second half of the season – but needs to work on his finishing. White is relishing the challenge of launching his pro-career in the city which adopted him – but he’s totally untested at this level.
On the positive side, Johnston – in common with all Toronto fans – will be hoping Dwayne De Rosario can continue his impressive career in his hometown. “DeRo” will be looking to return to his best after a somewhat disappointing final campaign in Houston with whom he’d won back-to-back MLS Cups.
And Johnston was quick to dispel the conspiracy theories which have abounded as a result of De Rosario’s low profile since the trade in December.
“Dwayne will be here on the 2nd [of] February,” insisted Johnston. “I’ve heard all the nonsense. Dwayne’s gone overseas. I fought hard for two years to get him here and there’s no way Dwayne’s going anywhere – we’re starting to get a team that’s capable.”
Why then the silence and lack of media presence following the signing of Canada’s most celebrated player?
“We’re looking at Dwayne’s contract,” Johnston continued. “We’re trying to secure him for a longer term – I think I’m getting there. Other than that, Dwayne has a two-year contract. Dwayne is not going anywhere. Dwayne will be in our team come the start of the season.”
Mystery solved, or so it would seem, and if the player and his advisors are playing hardball about the terms of the deal, who can blame them? De Rosario will be 31 in May so this could be his last major contract before the word “retirement” begins to loom large in his rear view mirror.
As I see it, his offensive production and ability to combine effectively with Amado Guevara will be a key factor if Toronto FC is to take a major step forward and become a serious playoff contender in 2009.
Since the formation of the franchise, DeRosario has never made any secret of his desire to “come home” and play in front of family, friends, and fans who are ecstatic about his return. They’re happy – now it is incumbent upon Toronto FC to make him happy. Happy players perform at their best and Toronto needs to see the best of Dwayne De Rosario.
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