Now that Ronnie O'Brien is gone to the San Jose Earthquakes, I recall a conversation I had with him last summer. At that point, the Irish winger was in the middle of his second rehab of the season.
He was clearly frustrated with being unable to play, but still chipper. O'Brien was always quippy and fun to talk to. The conversation turned to the city of Toronto, which I figured would be a major improvement on his former hometown, Dallas.
Not so. Not so at all. O'Brien was not at all impressed with the city. At one point, O'Brien asked me in seriousness, "Why do people here think Toronto is so great?"
He didn't like much about the city - the traffic, the fieldturf, his new home. Strangely for a young man from the small Irish town of Bray, O'Brien fondly recalled the sprawl of Dallas. He still owned a couple of houses there. He pined for his former commute - crossing the street from his big suburban house to the stadium directly across. His Irish wife had left behind a lot of good friends and was having trouble settling in Toronto. The pair of them were looking forward to wintering in Texas.
From that moment on, I figured that O'Brien's departure was a significant likelihood.
Manager Mo Johnston likes to talk about how good Toronto FC was in the middle of last season. Most of that is down to O'Brien's play. Though he wasn't able to contribute much in his one year owing to fitness, losing O'Brien is a huge blow to this teams hopes of improving this year.
P.S. I think I should add that O'Brien was fond of his teammates from what I could tell. And there was never any whinging from him. Quite the contrary - he always seemed like the happiest guy on the pitch. He just didn't seem to have fallen for the town in the same way, say, Danny Dichio and his family clearly have.