April 5, 2007 Toronto FC Ronnie O'Brien injured in training (from Globe and Mail)

Johnston doubly disappointed as opening game draws near
From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Toronto FC will play the first game of its first season Saturday and will do so without one of its most important players, midfielder Ronnie O'Brien, who is expected to miss four to six weeks with a knee injury.

The team worked out Wednesday for the second time at new BMO Field, which has FieldTurf instead of real grass, without O'Brien, who suffered a partial tear in a ligament during Tuesday's closed practice.

Head coach Mo Johnston said that he was disappointed by the injury and the way it happened. O'Brien was hurt lashing out to try to kick at another player.

It came during an intrasquad session as the expansion Major League Soccer team prepares for its first regular-season game against Chivas USA in Carson, Calif.

He also emphasized that the injury had nothing to do with the artificial turf.

"I told Ronnie, [he] was silly," Johnston said. "Ronnie lashed out to kick at somebody."

The play resulted in the injury and cost the team a player who set up both goals in last Wednesday's 2-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls in the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, S.C. He assisted on one goal in Saturday's 3-0 victory over the Charleston Battery, which resulted in a second-place finish in the four-team tournament.

The artificial turf was part of the topic of conversation Wednesday because of a report that it was decided that defender John Kennedy, 23, of Scotland's Glasgow Celtic, not come to Toronto on loan because of the playing surface.

It was a suggestion from his U.S.-based knee specialist. Kennedy has taken about three years to come back from a career-threatening knee injury.

"I think he's a wonderful player," Johnston said. "His doctor advised him not to [play in Toronto]. I went back again and told them, listen, it's like proper grass. It's a wonderful pitch . . . the turf is beautiful."

Johnston, who once played for Celtic, said he has not given up hope of working out something with that team's manager, Gordon Strachan.

"I'm still talking to Celtic as we speak," Johnston said. "I've not given up. I'm trying."

There was another possible snag in that the MLS season starts and ends earlier than most European leagues, other than in Scandinavia. If Kennedy went to Toronto on loan, according to regulations, it would mean that he could not be lent out a second time to a team during the winter when Scotland and England and many other leagues play.

"He would have to come for a full year," Johnston said.

It was one of two big disappointments this week. The other was O'Brien's injury.

Johnston said that he told O'Brien in front of the team about the folly of his actions.

"He lashed out when he shouldn't have," Johnston said. "There's a time when Ronnie has to be one of the team leaders and there's a time and a place for certain things to do."

O'Brien's absence will hurt "a lot," forward Alecko Eskandarian said. "We need Ronnie healthy and we need him on the field because he's going to help us score goals."

There are three other artificial fields in the 13-team MLS and there are some artificial surfaces in Europe. Defender Marco Reda, who is over a thigh injury and will be ready for Saturday, played in Denmark and Norway and has experience on artificial fields.

Reda likes the new turf at BMO. "I've played on [artificial] turf many times, playing in Scandinavia," he said. "It's pretty popular there as well. Actually this is the best [artificial] turf I've ever played on. Ideally, you always want to play on a perfect grass pitch. I think this is the next best thing. The ball carries a little quicker here. It carries a little further. The ball will stop a lot quicker on grass."

back to Toronto FC menu