TORONTO – While Toronto FC’s players were out on the BMO Field pitch Tuesday for their usual late-morning practice, management was in another room announcing the dismissal of their coach and the club’s director of soccer.
Following training, captain Dwayne De Rosario, midfielder Julian de Guzman and goalkeeper Stefan Frei had their opportunity to weigh in on the departures of Preki and Mo Johnston and the announcement of Nick Dasovic as interim coach.
“[Preki] definitely said he was going to run a tight ship and I don’t think a lot of players adapted to how tight the ship was actually run,” said De Rosario. “So Nick obviously wants to loosen it up a little bit and let guys enjoy the play and I think guys will definitely respond to the way he wants them to play."
They weren’t surprised by the moves. Toronto are in the midst of a six-game winless streak with just six games left and a playoff spot hanging in the balance. Saying anything shy of a playoff spot in 2010 was unacceptable, parent company Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. pulled the trigger to salvage the season.
While the recent losing skid was a factor, it was only a symptom of several underlying issues. Chief among them were the demands Preki placed on the players amid a busier schedule, injuries and the day-to-day grind of the long MLS season.
“As players, you can only do so much,” said De Rosario. "Once you cross the line, it’s all you. Off the field, Preki did demand a lot from the guys. Some guys didn’t respond to it quite well especially as the season carried on as we are right now."
Asked if Preki pushed the players too hard, De Rosario alluded to several unspecified incidents.
“In some respects, yes, I think, and in some respects it was fair," he said. "I can’t get into each thing. Preki had his style of coaching, and did the players adapt to that? I don’t know.
“Obviously you can look at the last two months and it was a tough preseason. I could tell you that much. Practice was definitely demanding and fatigue started to kick in around this time in everyone’s bodies and minds.”
In the days leading up to the announcement, speculation and reports spread that Preki lost the players and the coaching staff with his hard-nosed tactics. In the news conference following TFC’s 1-0 loss Saturday to league-worst D.C. United last weekend, Preki, not one to make excuses, rhymed off a litany of excuses, none of which addressed any potential issues in the locker room.
“Preki did bring some parts of the game which were missing in the club," de Guzman allowed. "He wanted the winning mentality and the effort at all times from the players.
"But there were also moments where a lot of the guys weren’t on the same page as him and I guess it had an effect on the atmosphere in the change room. I definitely felt that was missing in the team’s success, something that any team needs is a good change room."
When pressed to explain the disconnect, Toronto’s first Designated Player said players were not allowed to express themselves both on and off the pitch, leading to a not-so-positive environment under Preki.
Five points out of the last playoff spot, De Rosario, de Guzman and Frei looked forward to the fresh approach that Dasovic will bring and what it could mean for the club’s chances to make the playoffs.
“He’s been a great piece to the puzzle and he’s the type of guy that brings good vibrations to the change room and to the pitch as well,” said de Guzman.
“To have him on the team I think is a good thing for what we want with this club and making the playoffs, and Nick being that player manager is a good decision.”