CBC Sports Online's soccer expert, John Molinaro, takes you inside the world of soccer and offers his insights about the action on the pitch and in the front office.
Mo Johnston not afraid to make deals
Friday, June 1, 2007 | 09:19 AM ET
In need of some goals after his team scored just five times through the first seven games of the season, Toronto FC coach Mo Johnston made another big move last week when he acquired forward Jeff Cunningham in a trade with Real Salt Lake.
In exchange for Cunningham, Johnston gave up forward Alecko Eskandarian and a first-round pick in next year's MLS draft.
Cunningham, a member of the U.S. national team, had three goals this season for Salt Lake, while Eskandarian, who had been battling injury problems, had one.
Despite his lack of goals, Eskandarian earned the respect of his teammates and fans alike with his hustle and hard work on the field, not to mention the passion with which he played the game.
Dealing away a fan favourite such as Eskandarian didn't sit well with some Toronto FC supporters, but Johnston said he can't take that into consideration when doing what he feels is best for the team.
"It doesn't matter if he's popular or not. Maybe he's popular in his [neighbourhood], but he played seven games and he only scored one goal," Johnston told reporters last week.
"He hadn't been healthy a lot. He picked up some niggling injuries on the turf and for me adding Jeff Cunningham was something we've been looking to do since November."
Give Johnston a lot of credit: he took immediate and decisive action and made a tough decision, one that he knew would not be popular with the fans and would lead to second-guessing.
The easy thing to do would be to look at the half dozen trades Johnston made this season and declare that the Scot has a trigger finger when it comes to making deals – that he's too quick to trade players away instead of giving them enough time to prove what they can do.
Every deal he's made thus far, though, has improved the team.
This latest trade wasn't so much about dumping Eskandarian but about adding Cunningham, last season's top scorer and the fourth all-time leading scorer in MLS history.
"We felt we were getting a better player. Twenty-one goals in five years [for Eskandarian] compared to 95 [for Cunningham]. For me, it's a no-brainer," Johnston said in explaining why he made the deal.
Toronto has only played one game without Eskandarian, but you can already notice the difference with Cunningham in the lineup.
In last Saturday's 2-2 draw with the Columbus Crew, Cunningham had three quality scoring chances (two more than Eskandarian registered for Toronto in seven games), and was far more effective playing alongside fellow forward Danny Dichio.
Dichio and Cunningham made excellent use of each other's strengths with the Englishman winning the ball and holding up the play before setting up his American teammate to use his speed on breakaways.
Dichio and Cunningham had great chemistry in the Columbus contest, a fact not lost on Johnston who told CBC Sports after the game that he was "very pleased" with his new forward combination.
Fans might miss Eskandarian, but he'll quickly be forgotten once Cunningham begins scoring for Toronto. And when he does, those same fans will likely give Johnston the benefit of the doubt when he makes his next trade.
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About the Author
John F. Molinaro is a reporter for CBC Sport Online whose chief love is international soccer. John served as senior editor of Sports Online's Euro 2004 website, which helped him win a CBC.ca Award of Excellence, and was the driving force behind our coverage of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. He holds an honours BA in sociology from York University and a print journalism diploma from Sheridan College, and is also the author of The Top 100 Pro Wrestlers of All Time (Stewart House, 2002).
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