[MLS] First Curt Onalfo, and now Preki, coaches dismissed less than a year after being hired to reverse disappointing results. Few MLS coaches have been dismissed so early in their tenures.
Former Metros’ boss Eddie Firmani lasted just eight games into the inaugural 1996 MLS season, Johnston got the hook 12 games into the Metros’ 2006 campaign, Alfonso Mondelo worked 16 games into the 2001 season before Tampa Bay cut him loose, Carlos Cordoba handled the first 19 matches played by expansion Miami in 1998, and Hans Westerhof won just three of the first 21 games played by Chivas USA before taking the fall.
Heading out the Toronto door along with Preki is the man who championed his hiring last November, Director of Soccer Mo Johnston, who himself coached TFC in 2007, its first year of operation. Assistant coach Nick Dasovic, a holdover from the previous coaching regime, will take over the team.
“When Preki was here, to be honest, there wasn't really any system,” said captain Dwayne De Rosario to the Toronto Sun. “That was the major thing missing in the training and preparation for the game. There was nothing to work with. That's something that has an effect on a lot of players.”
Onalfo (18 games with D.C. United) and Preki (24 games) join a shortlist of MLS coaches hired before the start of a season and fired prior to its conclusion.
United’s listless, confused play had earned its just three wins and three ties; TFC’s record of 7-10-7 nestled it close to a playoff spot, but a ghastly 1-6-3 mark in the last 10 games and bitter threats of fans refusing to renew season tickets prompted owner Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) to hit the eject button.
Inherent in the dismissal of both Onalfo and Preki is that team management not only flubbed an opportunity but perhaps inflicted further damage. Onalfo’s departure left assistant coach Ben Olsen stranded in a smoldering pile of rubble and the rabid United fan base thoroughly disgruntled.
Toronto FC is much the same after a jeering, angry crowd at BMO Field departed in droves when TFC conceded the goal by which it lost, 1-0, to D.C. United -- hey now there’s an irony! – last Saturday.
Preki’s reputation as hardass coach rankled many psyches at his previous employer, Chivas USA, where he labored under increasing control from the parent club in Guadalajara while guiding his team into the playoffs three straight years. First-round elimination in all three seasons and growing friction with upper management led to his departure, by mutual agreement, in late November. This time he lasted just four-fifths of the season.
MLSE surprised many fans and journalists last October when it announced, just minutes after a humiliating 5-0 loss to New York had eliminated it from playoff contention, that Johnston’s contract had been renewed. CEO Tom Anselmi made the announcement while standing outside the TFC locker room, and weeks later the organization backed Johnston’s hiring of his former teammate at Everton and Kansas City.
Dasovic, who also bumped heads with Preki on occasion, becomes the fifth head coach in less than four seasons, following Johnston, John Carver, Chris Cummins, and Preki. Dasovic nearly got the job last year when Carver departed but instead MLSE went with another of his assistants, Cummins, who finished the season before he, too, was jettisoned.
“The situation was not right,” Anselmi said to the Sun, who pointed the finger of blame at Johnston. “At the end of the day, it's a results-oriented business, and the results just weren't there.”
A ballyhooed signing of Canadian international Julian de Guzman last season as a Designated Player puzzled many observers, and a revolving door of personnel changes in 2010 – former captain Jim Brennan pushed into management one game into the season, and a contentious departure of striker Ali Gerba among them – further undermined confidence.
DP No. 2, Spanish attacker Mista, who arrived in August, has fallen well short of expectations for a high-priced, experienced player aged 31. Martin Saric, Maxim Usanov and Raivis Hscanovic -- three of Preki’s offseason signings -- are competent at best, comedic at worst.
Fans questioned the trade of Marvell Wynne to Colorado. An inept attack produced just 22 goals in 24 games, with De Rosario (nine goals) and Chad Barrett (six) the only reliable attacking elements.
“People are smart. They are going to see the fraud sooner or later,” said Gerba on a Toronto radio station in April after Preki and Johnston cut him loose.
Those are the harsh, angry words of a jettisoned player, and can’t be taken at face value. Johnston did engineer such transactions as acquiring De Rosario from Houston after the 2008 season, and Preki earned some praise for tightening the team's defense in front of reliable goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Yet MLSE deemed its latest coaching hire to be a failure, and that was enough.