Toronto FC trades Ronnie O'Brien to San Jose

Toronto FC traded veteran midfielder Ronnie O'Brien to the San Jose Earthquakes on Thursday.

The player Mo Johnston once called the best right-sided midfielder in Major League Soccer has left Toronto.

Johnston, Toronto FC's general manager, confirmed Thursday that the club traded Ronnie O'Brien to the expansion San Jose Earthquakes for a first-round pick in the 2009 MLS draft and an undisclosed amount of allocation money.

O'Brien, 29, was generally considered one of Toronto's best players during its inaugural season in 2007, even though the Irishman played only 13 games due to chronic problems with his right knee.

Johnston said O'Brien's guaranteed contract, believed to be worth $260,000 a season, was one of the main reasons he dealt the veteran midfielder to San Jose.

"Obviously, it frees up some salary cap space. … [This trade] gives us an opportunity for next year to go into the draft with a couple of first-round picks," the Scot told reporters following Toronto's Thursday morning training session.

Johnston claimed Thursday's trade now leaves Toronto with $450,000 worth of salary cap space and that the available money will go towards signing new players for the upcoming campaign.

Asked if he has specific plans for that money, Johnston replied, "Of course we do."

"We're building. We're building slowly and we're going to add names very shortly."

A three-time MLS all-star with FC Dallas from 2002 to 2006, O'Brien was one of the first players signed by Johnston, who was Toronto's coach last season before being promoted to general manager earlier this month.

O'Brien missed the team's first four games of the 2007 campaign with a knee injury, and then hurt his knee again in a July exhibition match against English club Aston Villa before having season-ending surgery in August.

When he did manage to play, O'Brien distinguished himself as the club's best playmaker and creative linchpin in midfield, and was Toronto's lone representative at the 2007 MLS all star game.

Feelings the same

At O'Brien's formal introduction to the Toronto media in November 2006, Johnston called the Irishman "the best right-sided player in the league."

The Toronto GM still feels that way, but felt he couldn't take a gamble on the Irishman's health holding up this season.

"He's a helluva player when he's healthy. I've said this before, he's a wonderful player and he's one of the best in the league when he's on form, but he was injured a lot last season," Johnston explained.

"Getting allocation money and a first-round draft pick, we just couldn't pass that up."

O'Brien was not a fan of playing on the FieldTurf surface at Toronto's BMO Field, and wasn't shy about telling reporters that he felt the artificial surface may have played a part in his injury problems.

But Johnston doesn't believe the turf had anything to do with it, and thinks the fact Toronto plays on a synthetic surface, as opposed to natural grass, will not prevent prospective players from signing with the club.

"Players can get injured anywhere, on any surface … it has nothing to do with the turf," Johnston said.