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Monday MLS Breakdown: Johnston's Choice

By Kyle McCarthy

They take their soccer a bit more seriously in Toronto than they do in most other MLS markets. Need proof? Just take a look at a Tweet sent out by Toronto mayor (and Toronto FC season-ticket holder) David Miller when news of John Carver's resignation broke on Saturday.

“Carver quits!?? In the middle of the season? Sad. Good passionate coach. Hope the Personal Reasons aren't serious. Will miss his ref comments.”

The surprise and shock of Carver's departure hasn't worn off in Toronto yet. Carver had the club moving in the right direction, but abruptly departed with little notice and without defining those personal reasons. Reports in the Toronto area on Saturday linked Carver's departure to one of two separate issues: (1) Carver wanted to head back to England to join Alan Shearer's staff at Newcastle United and (2) Carver felt abandoned by a supposed lack of support by the organization after MLS fined him $750.

Carver dismissed those reports in a brief conversation with the Sunday Sun, a newspaper based in the northeastern England, and added a third category: disgust with MLS.

“There is nothing else in the pipeline, and the people at Toronto have been fantastic to me,” Carver said. “It is the MLS with whom I have issues.”

Whatever the reasoning behind Carver's resignation, the former Newcastle coach's departure will certainly create a few headaches for Toronto FC manager and director of soccer Mo Johnston. Carver was a good coach by MLS standards and he won't be easy to replace, particularly given the timing of his departure.

Shopping for a coach is difficult during this juncture of the season. Johnston could reasonably expect to hire another MLS head coach or a prominent assistant during the close season, but that isn't a reasonable expectation right now. The circumstances will likely force Johnston to cull his new coach from the ranks of the unemployed or select someone from within the organization.

That leaves Johnston to either select himself or, more likely, assistant coach Chris Cummins as the interim manager for the short-term. Neither choice is ideal on paper. Johnston isn't particularly adroit or comfortable on the bench, while Cummins has zero first-team managerial experience from his previous stints as a youth coach with Luton Town and Watford.

But the early signs under Cummins and fellow caretaker Nick Dasovic – a longshot for the position given the circumstances surrounding Carver's departure and his lack of experience – are positive after two consecutive wins without Carver on the bench. Toronto introduced a 4-2-1-3 formation on Wednesday night – an aggressive formation that didn't exactly have Carver's fingerprints all over it even though Carver was still manager on Wednesday and watched the match from the press box – and earned 1-0 wins over Chivas USA and Kansas City by using it to shore up the beleaguered defense and creating a boatload of chances. The six points even lifted TFC to the top of the Eastern Conference table.

Cummins' instant success will heap pressure on Johnston to hand the team over to Carver's former assistant on an interim basis until the end of the season or appoint him the permanent manager on a short-term deal. It's hard to argue with the logic of keeping Cummins around given the instant response this week, but Johnston may want to take some extra time before making the appointment he promises to make on Tuesday or Wednesday. It might be the last appointment he gets a chance to make.

After missing the playoffs in his first two seasons and entering 2009 with heightened expectations after acquiring Dwayne De Rosario, Adrian Serioux and Pablo Vitti, Johnston has run out of excuses if things go pear-shaped and TFC misses the playoffs once again this season. These players are his players. This is his second coaching appointment. There are ample resources, particularly in comparison to other clubs.

Carver said he felt like his job was under threat after last weekend's loss in Dallas. Johnston – for now – says that his is not.

“I don't feel under any pressure,” Johnston offered during a lengthy press conference after Sunday's match to explain the situation.

Whether Johnston feels it or not, the weight of expectations – from the mayor on down – could crush him if things go wrong after this appointment. If Cummins isn't Johnston's guy or Johnston thinks he can find another coach who will do the job better, he should push off the announcement until he can get his guy in place. His own future may hinge upon making the correct call right now.

Prus reverses call, gets it right

Referees often get stick when they do the wrong thing. Alex Prus deserves credit for doing the right thing after doing the wrong thing in the second half of Saturday night's 1-1 draw between Colorado and Los Angeles.

Prus made a bad call in the 74th minute with Colorado leading by a goal. Omar Cummings streaked through towards the Galaxy penalty area and Todd Dunivant dove in with a saving tackle squarely on the ball. Prus saw the tackle, blew the whistle and promptly sent off Dunivant. “A bad red card by the referee,” commented Marcelo Balboa on the Rapids' broadcast.

Instead of leaving it there, Prus – with considerable urging from the Galaxy players – went over to consult his assistant referee. After a conference, Prus wiped the red card and kept Dunivant on the field despite the considerable embarrassment for blowing the initial call. Balboa called the reversal “a fantastic job by the referee” and Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena agreed after the match.

“That doesn't happen too often in this league,” Arena said. “I would have to praise the referee for the ability to get a wrong right. It wasn't a foul and it wasn't a red card. At the end of the day you have to feel good about that when we often are so critical of the officiating. Maybe we don't have a chance to get the point and we lose the player for a game. That's big of the referee to get it right.”

Week Six – Questions, Thoughts, and Answers

Monday MLS Breakdown Player of the Week – Javier Morales, MF, Real Salt Lake

Flip a coin between Morales and Clint Mathis for player of the week. I'll choose Morales for the second time this season because he consistently threatened the Revolution back line in the first half with his movement. Morales popped up everywhere, requiring the attention of defensive midfielders and fullbacks alike and stretching the Revs' compact shape. Two pinpoint corner kicks early in the second half – the second of which Mathis directly and sumptuously volleyed home to stake an early claim for Goal of the Year – all but condemned the Revs and hastened the second-half onslaught.

What was he thinking? Gino Padula, DF, Columbus

I'm not sure Padula's tackle on Cuauhtemoc Blanco deserved a red card. But as a experienced player, Padula has to manage the game better in the 57th minute of a match in which his winless team holds a 2-0 lead.

When Padula went in waist-high with the bottom of his boot exposed towards one of the league's most prominent players, he left the decision up to referee Jair Marrufo and those decisions often go against the defender.

“They are definitely going to protect a player like Blanco or Barros Schelotto,” Fox Soccer Channel analyst Christopher Sullivan astutely noted before questioning the dismissal. “If you come in and it's a dangerous play, the referee is going to protect that player.”

Eleven observations to start the week

1. How did Bakary Soumare get away with hauling Chad Marshall down by his waist as the pair jostled for a corner kick in the 30th minute? A dead certain penalty in any league in the world. Then again, that was about the only way Soumare could have stopped Marshall in the air on Saturday night.

2. While shipping two late goals is a bad way for the Crew to drop two points, it is worth noting that the Crew looked the best it had all season prior to Padula's red card. There's something to build upon at this point, but progress needs to arrive quickly.

3. “Almost everything that happened tonight was flawless for our team,” RSL coach Jason Kreis said after his team handed New England its worst-ever regular season loss. “It just doesn't happen enough. We've been involved in so many games where you play so well and you feel so proud of what's out there and don't get the result.”

4. “... I would never criticize another coach for their set up or how they choose to come in and play, but L.A. played with little ambition,” Colorado head coach Gary Smith said after his team drew 1-1 with the Galaxy in Commerce City. “To go down 1-0, they had to change. And the goal was a gift, I felt.” No word on whether Smith had his tongue drilled firmly into his cheek given a few of the away day point-snatching performances the Rapids have turned in this season.

5. While the Colorado defense yielded far too much space for the equalizer, Landon Donovan certainly had some work to do to turn in Chris Klein's square pass. Not many strikers in this league finish off that ball. The Galaxy just about deserved a point on the night for its drastically improved defensive organization.

6. Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid replaced the entire left side of his starting XI for the 2-0 win over San Jose. The moves came up trumps as Nathan Sturgis turned in a solid shift at left back while Steve Zakuani scored a goal and added an assist.

7. “I saw the ball coming across and I just wanted to make sure that I got it on target,” Earthquakes striker Ryan Johnson said after Kasey Keller stiffed his powerful header with a one-handed diving save in the 48th minute. “When I got my head on it, I thought it was in, but Kasey (Keller) made a great play on the ball. Kudos to him on that save. That was a big change in momentum.”

8. Two good moves by Preki to give his side a jolt: dropping the generally ineffective Eduardo Lillingston after a poor performance in Toronto and removing the similarly ineffective Sacha Kljestan during the second half of Saturday's 2-0 win over FC Dallas. “I didn't think he was particularly sharp,” Preki told reporters about Kljestan's performance after the game. “It's just locker room stuff. We'll talk about it and see if we can help. It should be a big concern for him - not for me.”

9. “I've got to look over it, view it, see what the situation was,” Red Bulls goalkeeper Jon Conway told reporters after he called Alfredo Pacheco off the game winner and allowed Chris Pontius to nip in to give United all three points in second-half stoppage time. “I have to take a look at it this week.”

10. “He talked to me,” Pacheco said about his communication with Conway. “He said it was his ball, let the ball, I've got the ball. There was communication. Conway said it's my ball. There was no miscommunication.”

11. There isn't anything quite like a Danny Dichio goal at BMO Field. The TFC fans love their hulking English striker.

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at kyle.mccarthy@goal.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.