Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yes DeRo Can?

Barack Obama’s talk of change has consumed the masses. Its spread and power has stemmed heavily from its ambiguity. Change can mean anything; it translates into whatever one wants it to, and usually evokes a strong sensation of optimism which is so often vacant in the lives of many. To be cynical has been vogue for so long, whether it was towards politics, sports, or life in general. This continued criticism could be seen as the antidote that finally swung the pendulum back to the side of optimism, as critique often leads to a need for one to fix their flaws. Now, apply the journey of this pendulum to your feelings towards Toronto FC. After two years of seemingly perpetual cynicism, where does your pendulum rest?

When Toronto FC was founded in 2006, fans, media members, and even Mo Johnston put together wish lists of players who they wanted on their club. One player seemed to consistently fall onto every list, Dwayne De Rosario. Watching from a distance, fans had yearned for the day when De Rosario would finally come home and slip the red, white and gray kit over whatever new hairstyle he had chosen. De Rosario is a deft player, who has the ability to influence a game like few players in the league. Many will argue that he embodied exactly what was so dynamic about the Dynamo throughout the past three years. Then, without any warning, there was no more need for this desire; he was a member of the Reds…well kind of.

Following the announcement of the trade was a secretive and worrying process, in which De Rosario and Toronto FC remained relatively hushed, as they were both hesitant to provide any news on the acquisition. The rumour mill churned, spitting out various scenarios which never seemed to favour the Reds, leaving fans irritated. Then, early last week, news finally surfaced that De Rosario was officially a long term member of Toronto FC. On Friday afternoon, De Rosario, hidden in the catacombs of the ACC, put pen to paper on a four year deal. Fans across the city were once again euphoric about the prospects for their club in 2009. And as he emerged from behind a makeshift press conference desk, which had been set up on the main concourse level of the ACC following the official press conference, over a hundred fans erupted into chant. This was arguably the biggest moment in club history. Change had come to Toronto FC, and the pendulum had swung, as hope had been injected into the lives of fans across the country.

De Ro, as he’s affectionately known by fans across the continent, brings to Toronto something that it has blatantly lacked over the previous two seasons, a superstar. His credentials are among the best in the league, as he has achieved success at both the club and international level. He also gives the club a surefire representative for everything that is soccer in Toronto. He has toiled through the Toronto youth systems to become one of the best players the country has ever produced. This makes De Rosario not only a superstar, but a relatable superstar. The power of De Ro can be summed up by the optimism that he provides to both fans of Toronto FC, and those children who had always searched for a local soccer hero to emulate. The significance of both is integral to the success of Toronto FC both now, and in the future. Just like the election Barack Obama, Dwayne De Rosario seems to have arrived just in time to bring much needed change and hope to a club that was seemingly heading nowhere.

As with Barack Obama, the ultimate contribution that De Rosario will ultimately make is still in question. Hope can obviously be crushed within a second. One president does not make a country, and one player does not make a team. It will definitely take a strong group of players around De Ro to solidify the Reds as a contender past the month of July. Many, however, are salivating at the potential lineup that may march out come the start of the season. The evident strength of the club lies in its midfield, and here is how it should align. Carl Robinson will once again slot in as Toronto’s holding midfielder; there should be no question about this. Rohan Ricketts will patrol the right flank, where he was one of the Reds most influential players last season. Johann Smith will be placed on the left, where he will be able to cause havoc for defenders with his combination of both pace and skill. Just to expand on Johann, many criticized him last season, and justifiably so, for his inconsistency and extravagantly wasteful play with the ball at his feet. Players, however, grow; and there should be a significant amount of confidence in his ability to put it all together and become a star for Toronto FC. Is there evidence? No, not really, just call it a confident hunch. Maybe I’ve caught hope fever too. Then, up front both Amado Guevara and Dwayne De Rosario will play side by side behind a lone striker. Both players are versatile enough to track back and play a more central role if need be, but having two of the leagues most gifted attacking players playing behind either Pablo Vitti (who’s arrival is nothing close to imminent) or Chad Barrett doesn’t bring to mind a lack of scoring power. In fact, it leads to the thought of Toronto becoming one of the better offensive teams in the league.

Even though De Rosario solidifies Toronto’s attack, there should still be question as to whether or not it will compensate for the clubs glaring weakness. The Reds are closer to feeble than anything else at the back, and De Ro can’t help there. One might compare Toronto’s backline to a defective Oreo. Jim Brennan and Marvell Wynne act as the tasty cookies, as they offer Toronto two of the better fullbacks in the league, both bringing skill and passion to the pitch every game. Yet if one is to look in the middle of this Oreo, well, there’s no icing, or central defenders. This means that the Oreo sucks. Toronto is in dire need of one, if not two solid defenders. One should do it, as a reliable defender should allow Tyrone Marshall to play a more static and therefore effective game. Mo Johnston vaguely referenced as a “lad from England” as our elusive central defender at the recent De Rosario press conference; however it is virtually impossible to be hopeful following this hazy announcement from Johnston. And until a central defender arrives in Toronto who will ensure stability at the back, it seems ridiculous to be absolutely confident about the clubs future. Just as with the election of Barack Obama, where Americans must be guarded in their optimism, Toronto FC fans must be careful when it comes to the arrival of Dwayne De Rosario. He has brought much needed change to a previously struggling club, however, like Obama, he is not a saviour. Therefore, the pendulum rests in a relative state of uncertainty.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

How Do You Like Them Now?

Defender Tyrone Marshall, midfielder Carl Robinson, and defender Marco Velez; they are three players that have all, at one point, taken heat from Toronto FC fans. However, as the season progresses, and Toronto FC continues to roll over their competition, fans have had little reason to question this trio’s performance.

Each player has played a key role in Toronto’s successful start to the season, helping make the Reds one of the best defensive teams in Major League Soccer. This is especially true at home, where TFC has only surrendered one goal all season. A quick look at Toronto’s previous eight games gives you verification of Toronto’s strong defensive play, with the Reds conceding only four goals since April 19. In that time, Toronto has also achieved six clean sheets. It has been a particularly rough stretch of games for Toronto’s strikers, and attack in general. Without the consistent play of these three players, who make up the centre of TFC’s defence, it is safe to say that Toronto FC would not be where it is today.

Tyrone Marshall, who is a regular for Jamaica at the international level, has garnered a reputation over his career for being a particularly dirty player. Take for example his tackle on FC Dallas’ Kenny Cooper, which broke the striker’s leg. It was a ruthless tackle that Marshall probably regretted making. However, this over-the-top physical play has been non-existent so far this season for Toronto, as Marshall has transformed into an imposing centre-back for the Reds. His dominating, yet clean, physical play, and control in the air, has given Toronto’s backline the anchor that was absent in the club’s inaugural season. He has improved considerably since the start of the season, a time when many fans called for his exit from the club; it may be hard to find similar opinions now. Marshall gives it his all, game-in and game-out, making multiple essential tackles at the back on some of the leagues most dangerous players. Marshall has to show that this play can become habitual, but looking at his form since early in the season, there is little reason to doubt that he is capable of achieving this. It has been a new Tyrone Marshall on display for the Toronto faithful, and his play will be integral to Toronto’s rise, or demise.

Carl Robinson has been one of the best, if not the best, player so far in Toronto’s second season in Major League soccer. The Welsh midfielder, who was one of Mo Johnston’s first additions in 2007, has given quality performance after quality performance for the Reds. Robinson has dealt with some of the league’s top players every week, and he has continually shut them down. As a holding-midfielder, Robinson has done almost everything imaginable. Those who critique “Robbo”, as he’s widely known, obviously do not understand what makes him such a vital cog in Toronto’s midfield. His distribution from the back is top-notch, giving the Reds a solid starting point for their attack. Wild tackles are rarely seen from the Welshman, as he continually puts in calculated, clean tackles. His ability to stay with the opposition, and angle the danger away, gives Toronto a quiet but effective shield against the attack.

Thankfully, Robinson has finally been allowed to play his role as a defensive midfielder, rather than being relied upon as an integral player at both ends of the field. Last season, Robinson was relied on heavily, and he was seen all over the pitch, usually trying to do too much. Now, Robinson plays behind Maurice Edu, and rarely moves from this position. He is where he is supposed to be. Robinson can also be seen as a teacher, with his impact being felt among Toronto’s younger players. Maurice Edu and Pat Phelan have both spoken about the Welshman’s direct impact on their development and education of the game. It is clear that whether it is on or off the field, Carl Robinson is making an enormous impact in Toronto’s climb up the standings.

Whenever the third player in this trio makes a strong defensive play, the chant now echoes around BMO Field: Marco! – Velez! Marco! – Velez! It is a chant that many would have dismissed early on in the season, when Velez was undoubtedly Toronto’s whipping boy. It was hard to find a more maligned player, and rightly so, as it looked like the Puerto Rican defender would never be able to make the jump from the USL to the MLS. His poor play still resonates in the minds of many fans, as it’s hard to forget his early-season blunders. Nevertheless, a new view on Marco Velez has started to surface among Toronto fans, as Velez continues to improve game after game.

The Puerto Rican’s passion is unmistakable, his effort is unquestionable, and his ability is starting to shine through. It has been hard to find a player this season who has left as much on the field as Velez. He hustles for 90 minutes, no matter what, using his pace to track down the opposition, and go in for the kill. Velez resembles a pit-bull at times, hungry to make his presence felt. Many will remember Velez pushing Columbus’ diving sensation into the boards near the North End Elite. It was a play that brought Toronto fans to their feet. His impact on Toronto’s defensive stability is indisputable, and surprisingly, the same applies to his offensive impact. Velez has scored two goals, with both coming off the islander’s head. His first goal, against New York, brought about one of the best celebrations of the year. The defender couldn’t hide his enthusiasm as he ran over to the sideline to celebrate with teammates. This would later be described by Velez as the highlight of his career. Soon after, he would lift the Reds over Montreal, and give them the all-important first win in their quest for the Canada Cup. Overall, there is no disputing Marco Velez’s impact so far this season. He has been fantastic lately, and he looks set only to improve.

So as the season continues to move forward, and Toronto FC heads into the summer months, this trio will maintain a key role in the club’s climb in league standings. They are all additions made by Mo Johnston, and he is looking smarter and smarter day-by-day. Those who doubted Johnston’s eye for talent should clearly be giving their head a shake. Add to Toronto’s backline the presence of rookie Julius James, who scored his first goal this weekend, and Olivier Tebily, who gave one of the best defensive performances of the season against Montreal, and you have yourself one of the most solid central defensive walls in the league. Maybe now fans will start to show proper respect for Toronto’s defensive play, and not focus primarily on offensive contributions.

Come on you Reds!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An Interview with Andrew Ornoch

Anrdrew Ornoch is one of Canada's brightest young players. The 22 year old has represented Canada at the international level; most recently at the Olympic Qualifying tournament this March. Ornoch, who currently plays for Esbjerg fB in the Danish SAS Ligaen, was kind enough to chat with me about his career, and a number of other topics recently in this interview. I hope you all enjoy!

You grew up playing at a high level as a youth. What would you say were the positives and negatives of your experience as a young soccer player in Canada?

I was lucky to grow up playing for competitive and successful youth clubs. I always had excellent coaching, guidance and competition. My first real coach was Mike Ristic a former member of the Canadian national team. His NSSC, North Scarborough Rockets team developed a great reputation for technical football. We played a very high level because of our talent, which included Jonathan De Guzman, among many others. Our assistant coach Julian De Guzman among other very successful NSSC Flyer members; our big brother team, which helped with our development. We had a group of older players to look up to! We had a lot of fun, and it all made for a wonderful learning experience. After NSSC, I played for PSA (Professional Soccer Academy) the program was designed by Joseph Komlodi- a provincial coach at the time, Mike Ristic- my coach from NSSC, and Marko Mashke a Hertha Berlin youth director. PSA was a developed program based on professionalism, and treating players as though they were preparing for Europe. We trained six days a week and we had a first team as well as a reserve team. Pressure was applied, hard work and performance earned you first team playing time, if not you had to prove yourself on the second team. Overall it was a great learning experience. We traveled to Europe twice a year playing Hertha Berlin, Stuttgart, MTK Budapest, Ferencvaros, Sporting Lisbon among other top youth clubs, and we did very well, winning our fair share. It was a competitive environment and it was as good as it got in Canada for a young player. I was surrounded by provincial and national team players, it was great. Afterwards, I played for Erin Mills Soccer Club, where Mike Ristic and Joseph Komlodi were again a major part of my development. It was a competitive club where I was surrounded by the core group of PSA, and together we were in four straight Ontario Cup championships, winning twice. We dominated our leagues, playing many years above our age group as well as in the men's league. It was a great learning experience and a stepping stone in earning a soccer scholarship to NCAA division 1 school Detroit Mercy. In terms of my story I had a successful group to develop with, and excellent coaching and mentoring. I think those are the most positive things I can say about my experience. There are many other great and dedicated youth coaches such as Carmine Issaco in Toronto, and that is always necessary for the development of youth in Canada. Until the age of 14 or 15, the football talent Canada has is equal to that in Europe. Sadly much of that talent goes to waste. We are greatly out resourced financially which is most evident. Like many other young footballers in Toronto or even throughout Canada, I had nothing to look up to that was professional. We base our own youth systems on the amateur system, and that won’t cut it when you have to compete with the best. My dreams were based around Europe. Playing in the Champions League was and still is my goal. Playing for a top club in Europe was the dream. Sadly, the longer a player stays in Canada, the less of a chance he has of “making” it. But hard work will always pay off eventually.

You started your career playing at the University of Detroit Mercy, where you had quite a bit of success. How did this experience prepare you for your career overseas?

Yes, I enjoyed quite a bit of success in Detroit. I was lucky to be surrounded by a few teammates from PSA and Erin Mills who went to school on scholarship with me. Together we formed the nucleus of that Detroit Titans team. It was a great opportunity to develop my physical presence. The opportunity to go to school also helped me develop a maturity that gave me more confidence on and off the field. When it was my time to go overseas I was ready to sign.

You then moved to Hungary, and played in the top division for Lombard-Papa TFC. What was the reason for this move, and were there other options open to you?

At the age of 20, there are not many doors open for an amateur Canadian player with no international experience. I knew I was good enough to go to Europe and sign for a first division club. I was not interested in playing in MLS even though I had plenty of recognition in the US. Since I was a boy all my goals and dreams revolved around Europe but I just needed a route to get there, which was non existent at the time. I was working hard and looking for my chance. It came through my old coach Joseph Komlodi from PSA, and Erin Mills. Three other teammates from PSA and Erin Mills have just gone on trials in Hungary for first division club- Papa Lombard. The club was looking for a central midfielder, so it was my chance. I went on trial and I signed a three year contract after three days. That is how I ended up in Europe. It was a big step from amateur football in the USA to a professional football environment full of passion. I knew it wasn't going to be the sexiest place to start my career. I knew it would be a big challenge, but I knew it would make me a better player. I loved the fact that I was finally a professional. I was never under any illusion. I knew I had one foot in the door, and I had a chance of making it in Europe with hard work. I never felt I made it…

And how would you describe your time in Hungary?

My time in Hungary was a huge learning experience. It was the next step of my plan; a stepping stone. I had to adapt to a new language, culture, customs, everything was different. I was lucky to have a few Canadians on my team; three of whom played on PSA and Erin Mills. But after a couple of months only 2 of us remained. After a year I was the only one left. It was a huge mental test, but one I was determined to pass. The quality of football was not the best, but it was higher than anything I was used to. As I was there, I made sure to work hard everyday, because I knew I would not settle to play in Hungary for 3 years. I needed to move to a higher level to reach my goals. I enjoyed learning from my coaches and teammates, but I knew I deserved more. My time in Hungary helped me earn my first cap for the Canadian national team. It was a special occasion. We played against Hungary, in Hungary, and it remains a special memory.

You then moved onto Denmark, to play for Esbjerg fB. How do you like Denmark so far, and what made you choose Denmark?

Yes, I was working very hard, and I believed I needed a change of environment to further my career. It was almost do or die in my eyes. I spoke to Atiba and he was enjoying life in Denmark, I knew Issey was playing in Denmark as well. They had both been enjoying success, and I believed I could do the same. The Danish SAS Ligaen (Superligaen) is a highly rated league, a top developmental league. There is an amazing amount of exposure to leagues such as the Bundesliga in Germany, the EPL in England, as well as other countries. It's simply very professional, a huge step up from playing in Hungary. I got an opportunity to go on trial at EfB Esbjerg, and I took full advantage. In the end the clubs agreed on a transfer price, and I was officially an EfB player. I signed a 4 year contract, and I was thrilled. After 4 months here, I still love it. I am buzzing all the time. I have played against Atiba three times, and Issey once. It was a great experience; I loved it. I wake up everyday with a smile on my face, leave for training and I know how privileged I am to be playing at this level. I know how hard I have worked to get to this point, it's just fantastic. However, it's just another stepping stone. I am constantly working hard to develop into a better player, and reach an even higher level. For now I'm just taking it one day at a time, I'm enjoying my surroundings and with a little time, I know things will fall into place.

Have you been keeping track of the success that Toronto FC has gone through? And has there ever been an opportunity for you to come to TFC, or have you thought about possibly coming in the future?

I was raised in Scarborough; Toronto. I love my city to death! That means I am a TFC fan for life. I have been keeping up with the team, and I am so proud of the support for the squad. The best in the MLS! One of the reasons I enjoy my football in Europe is the love and passionate support. It's the culture, and it seems that love and passion for football is developing in Toronto, I love it! I even have my own TFC Jersey. I can't wait to go see some games this summer on my vacation. I always said Toronto deserved a professional team, and to see the support and success the team is experiencing is great. A year and a half ago before TFC´s 1st preseason, TFC goal keeper coach Carmine Issaco contacted me and asked me if I was interested in TFC. Carmine was great, and wanted to bring me back to Toronto. TFC had their own plans, and nothing materialized. In the end everything worked out for me. I ended up in Denmark. Of course one day I want to play for TFC, but for now I am focused on achieving my dreams in Europe, developing into a top player here, and of course my future will involve TFC. We will see how things work out in the future. For now my focus is on my club football in Esbjerg.

You were called up to the national team to play against Hungary in 2006, and even though you only played for 4 minutes, what did this mean for you as a player?

Ahh man…pulling on the Canadian shirt was a dream come true. It was only 4 minutes, it was a big deal to me, it was my first international experience. It was in Hungary, the country that I was playing my club football. I got the opportunity to share it with my friends Jules, Atiba, and Jaime (Peters), it was a special experience. I will always be thankful to Stephen Hart and the staff for giving me the opportunity. As a player, I knew it was the right step in my career, it meant my hard work was not going to waste; it was a sign of progress. At the same time I knew that I needed to work very hard if I was to be a part of the team on a consistent basis.

You also played for Canada at the Olympic Qualifying tournament in March. How do you feel you performed during the tournament, and how do you feel the team performed overall?

Yea, I was proud to be part of the Olympic qualifying team. It's a goal I set for myself a while back, and reaching that was fantastic. I will always be thankful to Nick Dasovic, Tony Fonseca, Mark Watson, and the staff. They were great, very professional and well prepared. Unfortunately we were the most under-prepared team in the tournament, likely the most under-funded team which handicapped us from the start. The team goal, my main goal and dream was to qualify for the Olympics with Canada. We achieved the right results, and with exception to the Haiti match, we deserved every result we got. It was tough to lose to the USA, but in the end they deserved to win the match. I still believe we had the chance to qualify, and it hurt to lose, but it has left me with a huge motivation to reach the world stage with Canada. This is a new goal I have set for myself and my country. In the tournament, I am a midfielder; I have always played central midfield and occasionally out left or out right in midfield here in Denmark. In the qualifiers I was asked to play out of my position. I played a striker in a 4-5-1 formation, playing a lone striker role up top is not my strength nor my natural position, but I did the best I could at the time. Nick had asked me to play this role and I was determined to do all I could to qualify for the Olympics. In the end, I learned a lot and I felt that I helped the team achieve some good results. All in all, it was a fantastic experience, and I was thrilled to represent my country.

Who would you say is the most talented up and coming player in Canada that you have played with?

Canada is a huge country, and it has some wonderful talent throughout. I have only played in Ontario, Toronto specifically. Canada has a lot of up and coming talent, one of which is the most talented and hard working player I have played with in PSA, Erin Mills, and Detroit, Vahid Assadpour of the MISL´s Detroit Ignition. He is currently trying his luck in Europe, and I am confident that sooner or later he will sign in Europe and have a bright professional career.

You were born in Poland, so did you ever have any thoughts about trying to play for them at the international level? And if the option was open, what made you choose Canada instead?

That's a good question. I was born in Warsaw, Poland and a lot of my family remained in Warsaw. At the same time a large portion of my family moved to Toronto when I was just a kid. I love both my countries, and I have both passports. Naturally I've had strong feelings about playing for both countries. Growing up I fantasized about playing for Poland, and occasionally how special it would be to qualify and compete in the World Cup with Canada. I grew up in Scarborough and I fell in love with the sport in Canada. I played most of my life in Canada, and although most of my football development has taken place in Europe, Canada is my country that I love, and I am proud to represent it through football or anything...

And how do you feel about Jonathan De Guzman choosing to play for the Dutch?

Jono is a good friend of mine and I support and fully understand his decision to play for the Dutch. It's a personal decision of his, and I am happy to see his tremendous success and I am always going to be a big supporter of his career for both club and country.

Finally, who has been the most influential person in your career? And what are your goals as a player moving forward?

It's impossible for me to name only one person who has influenced my career. My family have always supported me and have always been there for me, so they have been a positive influence on my career. Mike Ristic, my coach of 12 years now, has helped my development, as well as other players. He has had a huge impact on my life. Other players who have mentored me as I was growing up include Julian De Guzman, and Cesar Pena. I have been blessed to have their support and ongoing advice. They have all helped me so much

......My goals in moving forward with my career revolve around performance here in Esbjerg, Denmark. I want to win trophies, so it was sad to lose the Cup Final here just a couple weeks ago. We are currently in 6th place with 4 matches to go. The top 5 clubs will be involved in UEFA competition next season, so there is still a chance at the UEFA cup next season. I want to play in the UEFA competitions, UEFA Cup, and eventually Champions League. Of course I want to play for a top club in one of the best Leagues in the world; Bundesliga, La Liga, EPL, Seria A. Internationally, I want to be a part of the Canadian World Cup Qualifying team, and I want to qualify for at least 1 World Cup, (as many as I can!). I want to win trophies with Canada, and basically I just want to make the most of my football career. It's a great life, with ambitious goals and dreams, but nothing is achieved without hard work, and nothing worth while happens easily. I like to believe things that can't happen, will happen. So the future is very bright.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Coming up....

Sorry for the lack of content lately, I've been very busy with school. I should be putting up some more articles when I get some time to actually write them.

As for interviews, keep your eye on here in the coming days, as interviews with Patrice Bernier, Julian De Guzman, and Andrew Ornoch should be completed.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Just Say No to the Argos

BMO Field is the home of Toronto FC, not the Toronto Argos, and it should stay that way. I am a season ticket holder for Toronto FC, and as rumours surface yet again surrounding the move of the CFL to BMO Field, it has become clear that this move is coming closer and closer to reality; enough, is enough. I, as a fan of Toronto FC, will not stand for such a move and have decided to protest against it. If the Argos are to move, it would almost certainly bring about stadium alterations that would hinder our ability to enjoy, and create the atmosphere that we are so proud of; along with other possible negative impacts. It could ruin Toronto FC.

Therefore, if these rumours are not cleared up, I will be wearing black and not my usual Toronto FC red. I hope you all will join me.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

An Interview with Issey Nakajima-Farran

There are many Canadian players perfecting their craft as a footballer overseas every year, however few have traveled to the places, or had the experiences that Issey Nakajima-Farran has had in his career. The 23 year old, who was born in Calgary, Alberta, was kind enough to chat with me about his experiences at both the club, and international level. Issey is currently playing for FC Nordsjælland in the Danish first division, and he has represented Canada at the international level.

When it came to which country you would represent at the international level, you had a few options open, if I'm not mistaken. What made you choose Canada?

-I got an invitation to play for Singapore, when I was 20 years old, to play for the U'21s playing against Japan, which I thought was an opening for a chance to play for Japan. That game I scored 2 goals and got man of the match; the coach of Japan, after the game, said that there were good Japanese players everywhere so it was a nice way of rejecting me. After that game I just wanted to beat Japan for how shit they had been treating me, including at Niigata and Tokyo Verdy. I just wanted to prove to those narrow minded people that I was better, and one day I will in front of them. Like a small anger that’s been tucked away you know? England was just where I grew up but could never really call home so it was an easy decision for me when Stephen Hart called me up.

What was it like starting your career as a youth in Japan?

It was hard; the culture was a real shocker. You talk in a different way to people, even if they are 6 months older than you, that’s just the way it is. So it didn’t matter if you were bigger or anything. I remember my first couple of months there; one of the older guys threw a 100 yen at me and told me to go get a coke for him, which was outside. I had a towel on and it was obvious I was about to hit the shower and this guy, who was fully clothed, threw money at me and demanded a coke. I as a European tripped and was disgusted at what was just said. I threw it back and the other young guys all looked at me, shocked, and basically to keep a long story short, all held me back. It’s just the way players grow up over there, you treat others like you’ve been treated you know? Then I heard it used to be a lot worse, but I did enjoy it a lot there and I do love Tokyo and it will always be my second home.

You then moved on to Singapore, playing for Albirex Niigata Singapore. How would you describe your experience playing in a country that is often left untouched by players?

Albirex received and invitation to set up a club in Singapore, as Singapore is so small they have other countries’ clubs set up there, which makes the league pretty interesting. So Albirex sent their whole reserve team there to get more games in the top league, which is a different pressure. The young guys, including myself, basically had no other choices. I just wanted to play so I took the offer, plus if you did do well the Japanese club would take you back, as you were on loan. I was the top scorer for the club but they took the second top scorer who was 3 yrs older and said to me that I was still too young. It was hard to swallow but I thought, “okay”, and in the 2nd year I won the young player award in the S-League, but still the Japanese club said to me one more year, so that’s when the Danish coach who was the coach for the Singapore U'21 team offered to take me to Vejle. But Singapore is a great city and I definitely see my self playing there later on in the future, as Singapore was very good to me.

When you had decided to move on from Singapore, is it true that you attempted to transfer to England?

Yeah, there was some trouble from Vejle, being skeptical of a young player from Singapore, so I had to find other solutions. Other coaches in Singapore gave me trials, and I went to Portsmouth, who had no coach at the time. Redknapp had just come in so it was the worst time to be there on trial even though I was there for 3 weeks. Plus my parents were living in London so it would have been nice to play there when I’ve been playing away for the last 5 years.

You then moved to Denmark, and have played with Vejle Boldklub and FC Nordsjælland. Was there a severe jump in the quality of the league? And how have you found it playing football in Denmark?

Well maybe more coverage over the games but having to play with so many different players, I realized there are great players everywhere; it’s just how lucky you get which determines where you play. But playing here definitely gives me more windows and chances for moving up the ladder. I think it’s a different style as players are stronger (in Denmark), but Japanese football is very fast with players shutting you down fast. I think playing in different countries has made me adapt faster. I do really like playing here with FCN, as everything is on the ground with players playing fast, quick football. It’s also the coach’s vision of football, which makes it exciting.

Do you stay in touch with F.C. Copenhagen's Atiba Hutchinson?

Yeah I live 8 minutes away, so I’m usually hanging out with him at cafes, as Copenhagen is a great cafe culture. It’s the thing to do here, and it helps both being single too.

What is your favoured position as a player, and what do you feel are your best attributes?

Left wing, Right wing, depends on the day and I like to switch a lot on the field. Like the ball being switched and create chances from the side, comfortable on both sides. I think I can create chances from different angles.

You represented Canada at the 2007 Gold Cup. How did you, and the rest of the team, deal with the missed call against the United States?

Obviously it was a killer decision, especially when the replay shows it wasn’t offside. None of the players like losing and as I hear from the other players, this year’s Canadian team is the strongest it’s ever been. So for me it was just nice being part of that. But again no one likes sitting on the bench so I wish I had more time but I guess you just have to be patient. But after that game, even though I think we were all outraged at the outcome, it gave us a lot more confidence knowing we can win these games.

What do you attribute the team's recent poor form to and will the team have their Gold Cup form back for World Cup qualifying?

I think so… its a hidden rule that players all perform better in big events, so there’s no doubt that we will all have a point to prove.

What are your thoughts about Canada playing Brazil, and how do you feel the CSA has done since it came under such criticism over the past year or so?

I think it’s a great experience to be playing the former world champions. I’m not too familiar with what goes on behind the scenes with the CSA, but from what I gather from the other guys it needs improvement. But for myself, I just want to be proving myself if I come on to the pitch and that’s all that matters on the day. I’m sure things are on the up curve.

How would you describe your brother, Paris, as a player? And how do you feel about being able to play with him for Canada?

It’s always been our dream to play along side each other, and the camp in February was the first, so it was nice playing with him as we are pretty close. Having gone through the same experience in Japan and having to see and experience his development was something really special. I think he’s a natural leader and can win balls which is a great asset. He’s got a great left foot and I think he is a smarter player when it comes to the passing side of the game. He was always the defender and I was the attacker when we used to play after school, so we grew up just like that. Bullying him made him more aggressive as well, and I have no doubt about his career.

And finally, it seems that you are quite the artist! How did this happen?

Art at school gave me the interest really. The long distant relationships lead my thoughts through a paint brush which also takes my mind off football. The thing about art is that it’s nice to let your fingers do all the talking with no one telling you what’s right or wrong.

Check out Issey's website here!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

An Interview with Pat Phelan

Pat Phelan is new to Toronto, the rookie was drafted by TFC in the first round of the 2008 MLS Superdraft by Mo Johnston, 10th overall. Pat was kind enough to speak to Come On You Reds about what his experience has been like so far in Toronto, and many other topics in this interview.

I read somewhere that you received offers to play in Europe before the draft. Is this true? And if so, what made you choose the MLS instead?

-I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go over to Europe after the draft to see what it could offer me. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t too great because the transfer window for most teams closed at the end of January. I was only able to trial with a Danish First Division club. The situation there wasn’t a good fit for me and I figured that Toronto would be a great place to begin my professional career so I came back to MLS.

You've now been in Toronto for a while, what have you learned about the city that you didn't know when you were drafted?

-I didn’t know much about Toronto at all before I came here. I visited here when I was younger but didn’t remember much, except that it was very cold. I knew that the city closely resembled many European cities and that it was an ethnically diverse city. I didn’t realize how expensive it was but I know now. I had heard about the fans and the passion they have for the club but it’s something you really have to experience in person. The atmosphere is the best in MLS by far.

You were named the Gatorade High School player of the year in 2003, how did this award impact you as a player?

-It’s always nice to win awards but for me, that award was special because it not only acknowledged my athletic achievements but also recognized my work in the community and my academic accomplishments. It let me know that I was on the right track not only as a player but as a person too. One of the perks of winning the award was a trip to the ESPY awards in Hollywood where I got to meet former FIFA World Player of the Year George Weah which was an honor to say the least.

You played at Wake Forest where you had a very successful college career, how do you feel the NCAA compares to other development leagues and systems, and do you feel it prepared you for the MLS?

-It’s tough to gauge the NCAA to other development leagues and systems since I wasn’t really a part of any others but I felt that the NCAA did a good job in preparing me to be a professional. Wake Forest is very difficult academically so I really have to balance my time between athletics and academics. It helped a lot with time management and prioritizing. It’s very nice not to have to worry about school anymore; now I can focus completely on becoming a better player. I also felt like I was very lucky to have played under such a great coach in Jay Vidovich. In the past couple years he has helped produce a number of players in MLS like Michael Parkhurst, Will Hesmer, Scott Sealy, and Brian Carroll (to name a few). The program he has built was a perfect environment for me and my development.

What is your preferred position as a player?

-I would have to say I’m most comfortable at center back, although I’m becoming more and more comfortable as a holding midfielder. I spent some time at right back in college and in training here in Toronto. At this point I’m just trying to become a complete player since we will be losing a lot of guys for the Olympics and other international duties. I want to be able to step in wherever I’m needed.

Many players have complained to me about field turf, what are your feelings when it comes to playing on it?

-To be honest I’ve never really liked it. I’m still pretty young so I don’t feel the soreness as much like a lot of older players do. It’s nice that the surface never really gets worn down or damaged like a grass field can. It does, however, produce some unexpected bounces and I feel like striking the ball on turf takes a different kind of technique as opposed to grass. I’ve also had some trouble with the ball sticking to my feet on turf but I don’t want to blame that on the surface. It is what it is, we just have to deal with it and try and play.

You have yet to step on the field in a game for Toronto FC. How do you deal with the change from the NCAA, where you were a integral part to your team, to the MLS where you are a rookie waiting his turn on a contender?

-It’s obviously a bit frustrating but it’s the nature of the professional game. Although I’ve never been on a team where I haven’t been a consistent starter, I realize that I will have to pay my dues and work hard to prove that I deserve to be on the field. Experience is crucial in the professional ranks so I understand that the older and more experienced players will most likely play more than I will. Having said that, it’s my job to make sure that the players who are playing in front of me deserve to be out there and I will do my best to make it very difficult for them to keep their spots.

Is there a player that takes the role of leader in the locker room, and lets the team know when they need to perform better?

-Obviously Jim Brennan is our captain and the vocal leader of the team. He isn’t the only one though; we have several veterans (like Tyrone Marshall, Carl Robinson, Danny Dichio, and Greg Sutton) who know when it is time to speak up and let the team know when things need to get better.

John Carver was hired at the beginning of this season and I have personally received nothing but great reviews from players about him. How has he impacted you as a player?

-JC has been a fantastic addition to the club in my opinion. He has a created a very professional atmosphere and really pays attention to detail trying to do things the right way. He is very committed to the development of the younger players and does a good job of making all the players feel like they are part of the team regardless of whether or not they play a lot of minutes. What I like most about him as a coach is that everything he does is done for a reason; everything has a purpose which helps to keep me focused on what I need to do to get better and help the team perform well.

How did the team mentality change once Rohan Ricketts, Laurent Robert and Amado Guevara were added to the team? Did you notice a change in the confidence level of the team?

-There was a 2 week period or so where the team wasn’t really a team. Within a couple weeks we released Boyens, Samuel, and Hemming, and signed Ricketts, Guevara, Robert, and Tebily. It was kind of strange to have so much movement within the team in such a short period of time but once the roster was set and we started to get a feel of everyone the team’s confidence shot through the roof. Although the future of the team was a little uncertain at the beginning of the season things have leveled out considerable. Now we’re very confident and learning to play well together.

Which player has helped you the most while with TFC?

-At this point I would have to say Carl Robinson. He’s a very down to earth individual and always has great advice for the younger players. He’s made my transition into MLS much easier than I thought it would be.

Going forward, what are your personal goals as a player, and how do you see this season shaping out for Toronto FC?

-My personal goals are to keep improving everyday and to be prepared to step into any situation at any given time. As a rookie I know I’m not guaranteed anything so when my opportunity does come I have to be ready. While the season started out on a rough note, the past few games have given the team, and the fans, a lot of confidence. I think it has helped being at home and the new additions to the team have obviously had a significant impact. I think it’s important for the team to avoid becoming complacent with our performance. As JC says all the time, “don’t think we’ve cracked it.” We need to keep working hard each day and try to get better in every training session. I’ve very excited about the future of the team and I think this season will be a dramatic change from last season. I can’t wait to see how it all pans out.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Maurice Edu, where are you?

This was supposed to be the year that Maurice Edu asserted himself as one America’s top young players. With some European clubs circling like vultures, waiting to snatch up the midfielder at the end of last season, it looked like Maurice Edu’s career in North America was going to be short-lived. He had just come off a season capped by a rookie-of-the-year award, a season in which he was a rare bright spot on an otherwise dark Toronto squad. Edu consistently put in solid performances for the Reds, showing his versatility with his defensive and offensive game throughout the season. However, we are now five games into the 2008 season, and I find myself asking one question.

Maurice Edu, where are you?

There’s no denying that Edu has talent, but the Maurice Edu we have seen early on this season is simply not good enough. Yes, we all saw Edu’s fantastic looping header over Zach Wells. It was definitely a touch of excellence from the young American. However, the DC game was lost in the first five minutes, and Edu’s header, which snuck in just before the final whistle, was meaningless. Before that, as in Columbus, Edu was not on his game.

In both Columbus and Washington, Edu was surrounded by an ineffective team that could barely push the ball up the field without losing possession. It was a tough situation for the talented American, who most likely believed he would yet again have the team on his shoulders this season.

In 2007, Edu had carried the team on his shoulders; he was the heart of a Toronto midfield in the absence of Ronnie O’Brien. Edu controlled the middle of the pitch with his ability to track back, and then quickly push up field to become an attacking midfielder, allowing him to score four goals for the club. He was an integral part of both the offensive and defensive sides of TFC’s strategy, and this flexibility was what intrigued so many fans, coaches and clubs, with Edu receiving high praise around the league. A considerable amount of respect came from opposing teams; invitations arrived to train with Aston Villa, he was voted rookie of the year, and a cap with the United States Men’s National Team went in the books. In 2008, this version of Edu has yet to show up on the pitch for Toronto FC, and the rest of the team has clearly improved since the team’s dreadful start, while Edu has not.

In the season opener, Edu looked overwhelmed at times. He was seen by the corner flag, at the top of the box, and by his own goal; he looked lost. With the ball at his feet, he often tried to do too much, and was dispossessed easily. He was no worse than the rest of the squad. However, this was supposed to be Edu’s team, and when the final whistle blew in Columbus, Edu had done little to help Toronto’s cause. In TFC’s third game, on the west coast against Los Angeles, Edu had another average performance. He did nothing detrimental to the team, but the stand-out player we routinely watched last season was no longer there. Again, Edu looked lost at times, unsure of what role he was supposed to play. However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Help, in the form of multiple additions to the midfield, had arrived for Edu. Logically, one would have expected improvement in Edu over the coming weeks.

In TFC’s first two games at home, Edu has continued to be average. It’s possible to forget he’s playing, as he disappears for large chunks of the game. He will, at times, provide a pin-point cross, or make a winding run towards goal, but these moments are infrequent. It’s difficult to understand exactly why this happens with Edu. He is surrounded by one of the best, if not the best, midfields in the league. He has a plethora of space down the middle, which when combined with this ability on the ball and overall skill level, should equal solid performances game-in and game-out. Unfortunately, this just has not been the case for Edu, as the momentary flashes of brilliance are quickly forgotten when Edu again becomes the invisible man. Against Kansas City, Edu put in a poor performance, rarely making a contribution to the team. He seems to have trouble linking with his teammates, and he looks lost roaming the middle of the pitch. Edu seems stuck between the two roles he played last season, trying to make a contribution at both ends of the pitch, but not succeeding at either. It’s tough to watch.

So why has Edu struggled in the early part of this season? Were we expecting far too much from the midfielder, still in only his second season? Or has Edu fallen into the ever deadly sophomore slump, which has trapped so many athletes before? It’s hard to say. Edu has not been horrible, let’s make that clear. However, I think we can all agree that Maurice Edu has not been himself. The reigning rookie-of-the-year still has a great future ahead of him, but at this point Edu looks far from the type of player expected to abandon ship for a career overseas. We’re all expecting more, and given his talent, our expectations are not unreasonable, but when will we see the return of the Maurice Edu that we know and love?

Wonderful Welshman
Edu’s partner, Carl Robinson, put in an absolutely fantastic performance against Kansas City yesterday. The Welshman, who will finally not be played out of position, has been fantastic since Mo Johnston added to the midfield. As a defensive midfielder, Robinson has done an incredible job in almost every aspect of his game, controlling the play from the back. His distribution was topnotch against KC, acting as a bridge between the back line and the midfield, while his tackling was done with precision. He never wandered up front like he so often had early on in the season, thanks to the fact that Robinson can play his favoured position. He has been nothing short of extraordinary recently, and these quality performances will go a long way in sending TFC straight into the playoffs.

Match Ratings – Starting XI
Greg Sutton – 10 – If you have a clean sheet, you get a 10 from me.

Marvell Wynne – 9 – Wynne was fantastic yesterday, tracking back and making multiple incredible tackles, while also making a significant impact offensively with his pace.

Tyrone Marshall – 8.5 – When a defender is invisible for most of the game, he’s done a good job. He was solid yet again for TFC

Marco Velez – 7 - The passionate defender is improving every game while he adjusts to the level of play in this league. He made a couple of mistakes at the back, but he played a solid game for the Reds at the back.

Jimmy Brennan – 8 - I thought he did a good job on the left side, while also collapsing into the middle when support was needed. It was a smart and clean game from Brennan.

Laurent Robert – 7 – People have to understand that Robert is not going to make winding runs like Ricketts of Guevara. His contribution will come through controlling the pace of play, off set pieces, and delivering accurate crosses into the box. He was okay against Kansas City.

Maurice Edu – 6 - I barely noticed him

Rohan Ricketts – 8 – delivered a few beautiful balls in, and was very dangerous for much of the game. His ability to run at defenders and switch feet (as he said before when I talked to him) gives him an extra string on the ball, making him a handful for defenders.

Amado Guevara – 9 – Fantastic performance scoring two goals for TFC, very dangerous with the ball at his feet.

Carl Robinson – 9.5 – My man of the match, fantastic performance.

Danny Dichio – 6.5 – I thought it did a poor job of controlling the play up front, and had trouble linking up with Guevara. Toronto needs to sit Dichio, and bring in a player with pace up front. There were multiple opportunities where a quick footed player would have capitalized on balls that were sent up front.