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5. MLS COUNTDOWN: Gambler Mo rolling the dice in Toronto
March 21st, 2007 10:12PM

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By Ridge Mahoney

What is the end product of adding a three-time MLS All-Star to a midfield the coach had already had rated as one of the best in the league?

Richard Mulrooney, Coach Mo Johnston, and the fans of Toronto FC are about to find out.

As it prepared for three games at the Carolina Challenge Cup, Toronto announced the acquisition of Mulrooney, 30, an eight-year league veteran who won the Comeback Player of the Year Award last year after missing most of the 2005 season with an ACL tear. He helped San Jose win titles in 2001 and 2003 before being traded to Dallas upon his request.

"It's very exciting that we have been able to secure Richard for a very good price, only giving up a partial allocation," said Johnston, who also sent a first-round SuperDraft pick to FC Dallas in the deal. "He's a very good competitor, I've always liked the way he plays."

Mulrooney joins a midfield corps that includes Welsh international Carl Robinson, English League veteran Andy Welsh, and Irishman Ronnie O'Brien.

"I see our midfield being very strong, probably one of the best in the league," says Johnston. "Robinson, for me, will be one of the best passers of the ball in the league. He's 30 years old and he can cover a lot of ground. He lets the ball do the talking. His feet are immaculate.

"We're excited. It's an expansion team, but if you look at the names, we've got a lot of guys who've played a lot of minutes in MLS."

In addition to ex-Dallas teammates O'Brien and Mulrooney, those names include Alecko Eskandarian, Edson Buddle and Jon Busch, as well as U.S. international Conor Casey, who left German club Mainz to sign with MLS.

Toronto FC is shaping up to be an expansion team in name only. The team has cut off season-ticket sales at 14,000 to leave some wiggle room in the brand-new, 20,000-capacity BMO (pronounced bee-moh) Field, which is one of six venues to be used this summer for the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Reporters and TV crews have been following Johnston and the team since the SuperDraft in mid-January.

"There is a buzz about the city and everybody's excited," says Canadian international Jim Brennan, who was born in the northern suburb of Newmarket and can see the stadium in which he will play from his condo in downtown Toronto. "You can see it's pushing in the right direction and it's very, very professional. I think people want to get on board with it and that's why there's so much support."

Toronto FC is backed by the powerful Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment organization, which financed the construction of BMO Field in partnership with the Canadian Soccer Association. MLS&E also owns the NBA Raptors, NHL Maple Leafs, and manages the Air Canada Centre in which those teams play.

"We certainly have seen great success in Toronto, it's exceeded our expectations," said MLS commissioner Don Garber. "I don't think we would have thought a couple of years ago that we'd be sitting where we are with Toronto."

Johnston will be assisted by former U.S. national team and Wizards head coach Bob Gansler, who is 22 years older than his superior and believes Johnston's relative youth and swagger might fool some people.

"We've worked together before," says Gansler of six seasons Johnston played in Kansas City that included the championship season of 2000. "I think sometimes that riverboat-gambler persona that he has leads you astray. He's very astute, he's a very bright person, he's a very bright soccer man, very knowledgeable."

Johnston took over the MetroStars with three games left in the 2005 season and got them into the playoffs, but lasted only 12 games (2-3-7) last year after Red Bull purchased the team from AEG.

Brennan heads a cast of Canadians that includes goalkeeper Greg Sutton, who came to MLS from USL club Montreal.

"I'm older than a lot of the guys are, so my experience from a good career in England are what I bring to the team," says Brennan, who turns 30 in May. He played more than 200 matches for five English clubs in the lower divisions, most recently Southampton, which he left last summer on a free transfer.

"We're under pressure. There is a big hype in the city and we have a lot of people backing us. But it's nothing you can't handle. A lot of us played in Europe and we know what it's all about, so to come back home and play it'll be all right for us."


TORONTO FC PRESEASON ROSTER

Goalkeepers
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)

1 Greg Sutton (Montreal Impact)
18 Tomer Chencinski (Fairleigh Dickinson Univ.)
- Jon Busch (Columbus Crew)
Defenders
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)
2 Andrew Boyens (Univ. of New Mexico)
3 Adam Braz (Montreal Impact)
4 Marco Reda (Sogndal, Norway)
6 Tyler Hemming (Hartwick College)
11 Jim Brennan (Southampton, England)
13 Chris Pozniak (Haugesund, Norway)
28 Stephen Lumley (NTC Ontario)
Midfielders
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)
5 Ronnie O'Brien (FC Dallas)
7 Jose Cancela (New England Revolution)
8 Maurice Edu (Univ. of Maryland)
14 Joey Melo (Mississagua Dixies)
17 Paulo Nagamura (Los Angeles Galaxy)
19 Richard Asante (Syracuse Univ.)
24 A.J Gray (NTC Ontario)
33 Carl Robinson (Norwich City, England)
- Richard Mulrooney (FC Dallas)
- Andy Welsh (Sunderland, England)
- Maycoll Canizalez (Hannover, Germany)
Forwards
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)
9 Conor Casey (Mainz, Germany)
10 Alecko Eskandarian (D.C. United)
12 Edson Buddle (New York Red Bulls)
20 Andrea Lombardo (Perugia, Italy)
25 Abbe Ibrahim (New York Red Bulls)
- Hunter West (Univ. of South Florida)


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