Cummins out as TFC coach after big loss

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO — Chris Cummins exited as coach of Toronto FC on Tuesday, painting a picture of an MLS team suffering from "backstabbing" and "poor characters."

Cummings, appointed interim head coach in April, said he is leaving to return to the United Kingdom to be with his family.

But director of soccer Mo Johnston said he only wanted Cummins to return as an assistant, adding the team needs to be run by a head coach with MLS experience. That search is underway.

Combined with star midfielder Dwayne De Rosario saying some of his teammates lack heart, striker Chad Barrett talking about finger-pointing and rookie midfielder Sam Cronin preaching the need for a new mentality, the Reds have a major mess to clean up.

"Yeah there is," Cummins told a packed news conference when asked if the team had some bad apples. "Listen 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, things like that, people backstabbing and talking about people. Listen, we’re all in this together."

The struggling side joins Toronto’s tapestry of sports teams in turmoil, alongside the Blue Jays, who are sorting through clubhouse dissent at manager Cito Gaston, the Argos, who are an utter train wreck, the Maple Leafs, who are off to the worst start in franchise history, and the Raptors, who have remade themselves in an attempt to reverse a disastrous season.

Toronto FC’s troubles, and the departure of Cummins, whose contract wasn’t renewed, come just days after the team suffered a 5-0 drubbing in New York from the lowly Red Bulls, falling one point short of securing its first ever playoff berth.

That left the team with 10 wins, 11 losses and nine ties in a year that began with higher expectations.

Cummins said Saturday’s performance "let ourselves down massively" and suggested the "occasion was too much" for some of his players. During some more introspective moments in his nearly 25 minutes with the media, he wondered if he should have been more proactive in dealing with the players he felt were troublemakers.

"It’s not always about technical and tactical abilities, it’s about characters," he said. "You look at Houston, no disrespect to Houston, good solid team, all good characters that work and work and work. Sometimes you need that on your team and don’t get me wrong, there are some great, great players on this team, Amado Guevara and people like that, who I have the utmost respect for, that give you everything week in, week out.

"But unfortunately, if you let one or two in there that are not good characters, maybe I shouldn’t have let them disrupt it as much as I did."

All that is now fodder for Johnston and whoever is named the successor to Cummins, who took over the team in April after John Carver abruptly stepped down because of issues with the MLS.

Johnston said Cummins was essentially the team’s only option at the time but issues soon arose. Team help providing work visas for Cummins’ family didn’t pan out and his wife and five kids eventually returned to the UK, putting pressure on his marriage.

Cummins thought about going home, but decided to tough it out.

"I was given a contract to the end of the year and I nearly lost my wife because she kept telling me to come home," he said. "But I’m a man of my word and when I say I’m going to do something, I honour my contract."

The heat will now be on Johnston, the team’s first coach, to find a steady hand to guide the club, which is now seeking its fourth manager in four seasons. A new contract extension for Johnson agreed to in August and awaiting approval is for 2 1-2 more years, but he needs to set things right in 2010 or he won’t survive until the end of it.

"Obviously not making the playoffs for three years, absolutely, 100 per cent it stops with me," said Johnston, who spoke for about half an hour. "I guess if it happens in the fourth year, yes of course I won’t be here. It’s as simple as that. Look I’m a big boy, I’ll take it on the chin, I know what’s expected and I’ll move on."

How to fix the dressing room seems less straightforward.

Johnston said he wasn’t aware of any "bad apples" among the players but Cummins said he went to him with his concerns and was met with, "you get on with it, you have to deal with it."

Both men said their working relationship was fine, although Cummins pointedly added, "I keep saying it, there’s no mates in football, there’s lots of acquaintances."

Cronin said the team needs more cohesion and unity while De Rosario said having teammates not 100 per cent committed to winning was an "eye-opener."

"You can’t force guys to have heart, you can’t make guys have the desire to win," said the Canadian international. "It’s 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, here it’s been a little eyeopener in terms of that, maybe because guys haven’t been successful or won individual awards or made it to the playoff final, or won a cup.

"If you don’t experience that, then you don’t know what you’re missing."

Added Cronin: "The mentality needs to be different, we all know that. … I just think the competitiveness and the way we approach every single game needs to improve."

While Saturday’s loss was the final nail in the coffin, Toronto squandered several points by surrendering late goals earlier in the campaign, only adding to the bad feelings.

"At the end of the year people started pointing fingers and everybody wants to put the blame on somebody, but it wasn’t the last game in New York that took us out of it," said Barrett. "Any one of the times that we let it go in the last two minutes of a game, would have given us the two points that we needed to make the playoffs.

"It was really just stepping on our own feet all year."

Johnston echoed that, saying "it wasn’t just about Saturday. We’ve lost numerous points late in games and it probably just wasn’t good enough, to be honest with you."

Selling points he’ll take to prospective coaches include a young nucleus of 13-14 players and the installation of natural grass next season at BMO Field.

Off-season areas of need include "centre-back, left midfield and a striker that can get us 20 goals a season."

Striker-midfielder Pablo Vitti and defender Adrian Serioux are the club’s only notable expiring contracts, while Guevara is set to have knee surgery after an upcoming contest for Honduras. Captain Jim Brennan said he’d like to return for another season.

"We’ve got the nucleus of a good squad," said Johnston. "We don’t need to tinker a lot with this squad, we have three or four guys that we’re looking at, and then we’ll take it from there."

It will be up to the new coach to make sure things come together.

Cummins left his players with a simple message.

"I just said to them there, ‘Listen lads, I do wish 95 per cent of you all the very best and I hope you go on and do well, and you know who you are. The other five per cent of you, I couldn’t care if I don’t see you again to be honest with you,"’ he said.

"There’s a lot of good young players in there and they have to look at the experienced pros, the good pros, the Jimmie Brennans, the Carl Robinsons, the Dwayne De Rosarios and learn from them. If there are certain pros in there that they think aren’t right, don’t learn from that."

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