Something rotten in state of Toronto FC
Bad apples? Ex-coach says yes, GM and team captain say no.
Forget Hamlet. If Shakespeare was still around, he could have penned an epic tragedy based on the trials and tribulations of Toronto FC.
Lord knows he wouldn't lack quality material for inspiration.
Chris Cummins left by mutual consent as head coach of the Major League Soccer club Tuesday, with the Englishman citing the need to return to the United Kingdom to be with his wife and family as the reason for his departure.
Before he headed home, Cummins addressed the media for the final time at a morning press conference where he took responsibility for the team's failure to qualify for the playoffs, thanked general manager Mo Johnston for the opportunity and stated he believed the club was only a few tweaks away from becoming a contender
But Cummins also painted a grim portrait of a franchise that's in a quagmire — a team burdened with backstabbers and bad eggs.
Media speculation has run rampant the past few months about a divisive Toronto FC locker-room with cliques, feuding players and a general lack of team cohesion. Cummins didn't exactly substantiate those claims — he's a decent bloke, as the Brits are fond of saying, and he understands the perils of burning bridges.
But he left no doubt that Toronto FC, which prides itself on its team motto "All For One," has serious player personnel problems.
"Yeah, there is," Cummins told reporters when asked if the club had any bad apples. "Every dressing room has poor characters, and maybe on that side of it I'd deal with certain people a different way.…
"What I didn't like was at times people putting the knife in, backstabbing and talking about people, because we're in this together."
'We've got a good bunch of guys'
Buck stops with Mo?
Toronto FC general manager Mo Johnston has come under direct fire from local media outlets, with several reporters publicly calling for his resignation, ever since TFC was embarrassed 5-0 by the last-place New York Red Bulls on Saturday, a result that put paid to the team's playoff hopes.
But Johnston insisted at no time since the debacle in New York, which was the heaviest defeat in team history, did he harbour thoughts of stepping down, although he did assume full blame for the team's playoff failure.
"One hundred per cent, it starts with me," Johnston said. "I know where the buck stops and it's with me."
But what, exactly, does that mean?
It's commendable that Johnston accepted the blame, but shouldn't part of taking the blame be about being held accountable? What good is it to accept responsibility if you don't suffer any consequences?
Johnston hasn't suffered any consequences, making his "the buck stops with me" proclamation sound shallow and hollow.
Could there be a few rotten apples in the TFC barrel? Not according to team captain Jim Brennan.
"I don't agree with that," Brennan stated. "I think we've got a good bunch of guys here. People want to say there are bad apples, so be it."
Johnston said he had no knowledge of such player dissent in the locker-room, and stated that Cummins should have brought that to his attention so it could have been addressed immediately.
Cummins claimed he did tell Johnston and the GM's response was: "You get on with it, you have to deal with it."
For his part, the Englishman admitted he should have taken a more hard-line approach in disciplining the problem players.
"Unfortunately, if you let one or two in there that are not good characters, maybe I shouldn't have let them disrupt things as much as I did," Cummins said.
He also questioned the overall spirit of the roster, suggesting the team could use an injection of character players — a sentiment echoed by veteran Canadian midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, who joined Toronto FC via trade from the Houston Dynamo in the off-season.
De Rosario explained the biggest difference between Houston and Toronto is that the Dynamo had more "spirit and fight" and "you had more hunger and more guys wanting to make a difference" in Houston.
"You can't force guys to have heart, you can't make guys have the desire to win," stated De Rosario. "Either you have it or you don't have it. Fortunately, throughout my career I've been around a lot of players that have had that kind of desire, [but] here it's been a little eye-opener in terms of that."
'We need to change the culture here'
Fellow midfielder Sam Cronin spoke openly about one of the club's biggest issues after last Saturday's humiliating 5-0 loss to the last-place New York Red Bulls, a result that effectively ended the Reds' dreams of clinching their first-ever playoff berth.
"More so than anything, we need to change the culture here, make it a winning, passionate group next season. I think it starts with a mentality and a kind of psychology of the team," Cronin said after Saturday's loss.
Johnston played down the rookie's comments, chalking them up to the sting of defeat.
"I think in the heat of the moment we all say things when we don't win, and I think in Saturday's case losing 5-0 in New York was devastating," the GM said.
But Cronin was just as insightful with his assessment of the club's woes on Tuesday, almost 72 hours after the debacle in New York.
"I was speaking about the team, and that as players we need to come into next year and the mentality needs to be different, and we all know that," Cronin explained. "I think the competitiveness and the way we approach every single day and every single game needs to improve."
The most interesting aspect of Cronin's startling indictment is the fact that it comes from a rookie who appears to be wise beyond his 22 years and isn't afraid to admit that all is not well with Toronto FC.
You would have hoped for the team's captain to come out and make such a bold and honest proclamation, to shake the troops up a bit and tell it plain and like it is. But he didn't.
Instead, Brennan chose to play it safe, as usual. The closest thing he said that would even mildly cause a stir was his rather tame comment that "maybe we don't have that urgency and that bit of desire to make the playoffs."
Maybe? No, Jim, there are no maybes about it. Ask Cronin, he'll fill you in.
As for Cummins, his most telling comment was the one he made to CBCSports.ca during a brief phone conversation as he packed to return to England.
"There's a lot more that I could have said but didn't for obvious reasons. Hopefully, people can read between the lines," Cummins stated.
Yes, there's something rotten in the state of Toronto FC.