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.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Toronto FC entered the league with a bang, and took the league by storm; off the field. The sell-out crowds were well documented; it was something that was seldom seen in North America. People spoke of a passionate crowd that may not have invoked fear in opponents, but certainly rattled many away teams as they entered the field. The fans stood behind their team no matter what, win lose or draw. It was something commonly seen across Europe, a place where the beautiful game features prominently in the lives of a large portion of the population. Europe is a place where the adrenaline rushes, not only because of the on-field product, but because of the atmosphere that surrounds a field that is dwarfed by tens of thousands of supporters. For 90 minutes, nothing mattered to the fans at BMO Field except how their beloved team performed. Now, after a long and tumultuous first season where Toronto FC finished at the bottom of the table, along with an off-season that may have been the cause of random acts of violence across Toronto, the fans of Toronto FC are ready to pack the stands of BMO Field yet again. This time, however, they might actually have reason to sing right into the playoffs.

Patience seems to be something that many people lack in their lives. The saying that “good things come to those who wait” is often pushed under the rug in life, as well as in the sporting world. Rebuilding phases are avoided by many franchises, as the “win now” mentality has spread from the fans right into the front offices of many teams. This was no doubt the case, when it comes to the fans, this summer in Toronto. The lack of quality additions to an already poor team brought about calls for Mo Johnston’s head, as Toronto FC was torn apart in the media and by the fans. Multiple trialists came through; they were hastily let in and then thrown out almost as quickly. It drove fans crazy. The first game was slowly approaching, and some people jumped to conclusions, while others took a more logical approach, and saw that help would in fact be on the way. They knew that it would be just a matter of time.

The season started off disappointingly, as 2500+ fans traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to watch the season opener. The expectations were low; however the fans were still out in full voice. “To see 2500 fans travel down to Columbus for the opener...that was fantastic. It certainly didn’t go unnoticed,” said Todd Dunivant.

When the final whistle blew, a massive sigh of displeasure could be heard across Crew Stadium. Toronto FC had lost, 2-0, and with no new additions in sight, the Reds were in trouble. More fuel had been added to the fire, and the optimists were becoming harder to find.

Toronto then traveled to Washington DC, along with a few hardcore fans, only to get destroyed by DC United. The 4-1 loss was one of the worst displays in the short history of the club. Hardly any positives could be taken from this thrashing, except for one thing. The addition of Frenchman Laurent Robert, whose quality was evident throughout the entire first half, in the form of multiple pin-point crosses and dangerous runs. Nevertheless, Toronto fans remained relatively reserved. The excitement over the club’s biggest-ever signing brought about joy within the fan-base, but they knew that more help would have to arrive, and soon.

Well, Toronto FC will play their home opener this Saturday, and most people will agree that support has indeed arrived.

The signings of Rohan Ricketts, Amado Guevara and the previously mentioned Laurent Robert have given Toronto one of the better midfields in the league. Two of Toronto’s newest faces were on the pitch last weekend, when the Reds clawed their way to a 3-2 win over the LA Galaxy. It was a match played in harsh conditions, as an almost unbearable heat had swept over Los Angeles. The well-trained Reds from Toronto were clearly fit, which is a testament to Paul Winsper, Toronto FC’s fitness guru, and coach John Carver. When the season reaches its conclusion, the fans may look back at the 2008 season and agree that Carver may have indeed been the most significant addition to the team.

Defender Todd Dunivant speaks very highly of Carver, and was happy to comment on how Carver has influenced the team this season. “JC has been great for us...he's instilled a work ethic in the team that will pay dividends, game in, game out. He wants us to press and make the other team uncomfortable. Our passing has improved. We work on that every day. He's as fair a coach as I've ever had. He gives you plenty of credit when it's due, and he lays down the hammer when he needs to. He won't let you get away with laziness or taking even a single play off. That type of mentality will be huge for us, and it will translate into a lot of success.”

Carver has helped change Toronto FC in a considerable way since that depressing March day in Columbus. What was then a team that struggled to move the ball forward is now a team that plays a new brand of football. The win in Los Angeles was evidence of this.

“I think the biggest difference in the LA game was how we approached it. We went in there looking for a result and played accordingly. On the road, it takes a different mentality and mindset to come away with points, and we had that against LA,” said Dunivant. “We defended as a team and were opportunistic with our chances. That's a winning formula on the road.”

The new additions to the team have given Toronto a giant boost, especially Amado Guevara, who played with Dunivant in New York. “Amado was phenomenal in his first game. He met us in LA, practiced with the team on Saturday, and played on Sunday. So there wasn't much time to prepare, but with a player like Amado he calms things down on the field and does a great job of keeping possession for us. He is that attacking player that we've been looking for.”

As a fan, you look at what Todd Dunivant has said, and wonder. What might Amado Guevara be able to do when he gets comfortable with the team that surrounds him? Excuse me while I attempt to wipe the enormous smile off of my face. I think he might do well, very well.

Laurent Robert also made a significant impact for the Reds in Los Angeles. He may not be match fit, however his ability to create chances off of set pieces contributed to TFC’s win. “Robert adds a nice little dimension to the team, with his left foot (I'm biased there) and free kicks. You saw that against LA on our second goal,” says Dunivant.

That goal was Jarrod Smith’s first career MLS goal. Smith is one of a handful of rookies who could potentially make an impact with the first team this season, along with Julius James, Pat Phelan and Brian Edwards. According to Todd, “All of the rookies have been exceptional.” Even though Smith impressed in LA, he may not start. Rohan Ricketts is looking to make his debut, in Smith’s place, for the Reds this weekend, now that he finally has his papers sorted out. Ricketts is a player with dynamic pace, and the ability to change a game with his skill on the ball. Link him up with Marvell Wynne, and watch something special happen. We’ll all be watching in anticipation this weekend.

This Saturday will be the beginning of another season at BMO Field, and Todd Dunivant wanted to make sure that we as fans understand how much of a difference we make. When asked whether or not fans matter, Dunivant said “Does fan support matter? It's huge! What player wouldn't want to play in front of a sold out crowd every week. And not only that, it's a knowledgeable crowd. They are loud. They make it uncomfortable for the opposition. And they make it fun for us. Who wouldn't love that!”

I think it’s pretty clear that we do matter.

Toronto’s opponent this Saturday will be Real Salt Lake, a team that has exceeded many people’s expectations early on this season. Thanks to some fantastic performances by team leader Kyle Beckerman, who has scored two goals, RSL is coming north of the border with a 1-1-1 record, most recently defeating DC United 4-0. This will not be a walk in the park for TFC, but I have confidence that a win will be celebrated this weekend. What a difference three weeks makes!

The patience looks to have finally paid off.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Rohan Ricketts Signs with TFC

First it was Laurent Robert, then it was Amado Guevara, and now you can add Rohan Ricketts to the list of newly-signed Toronto FC players. The official announcement came down today, but the deal became official on April 9, a day that could soon be remembered as the day that changed the club.

“Yeah, it’s a two-year deal,” said Ricketts, a right-sided midfielder who most recently played for Barnsley in the Coca-Cola Championship. Other terms were not released. This is Ricketts’ first move out of England, where he has spent his entire life. He will join a desperate Toronto squad that was most recently torn apart in the American capital; it’s a game that the club and its fans would soon like to forget. Ricketts, who has been capped for England’s U21’s, has been with six teams in his short career. However, this does not reflect his obvious quality as a player. He was once one of the more highly-touted young players in England, with Sven Goran Eriksson singling him out as one to watch.

Ricketts started out playing football at a young age, and by the time he was 10, he was playing in Arsenal’s youth system, which Rohan himself describes as “the best”. Ricketts would play under Arsenal’s watchful eye for his entire childhood, until he was given the opportunity he had been looking for. “I was eighteen years old, and I had only made one appearance for the first team. It was frustrating because we had such a good youth team, but you couldn’t see any of us getting a chance, a fair chance.” This sparked interest from around England, as there was no doubting Ricketts’ skill, but who would give him the playing time he needed?

“I knew of Tottenham’s interest, through an agent, and then I had to just manifest my way out of Arsenal,” said Ricketts, who would get out of Arsenal just as he had wished. This could be seen as one of the rarest moves in modern-day football, a move between bitter rivals, as Ricketts would join only three other players who had made the move from Arsenal to Tottenham.

While with Tottenham, Ricketts would meet Glen Hoddle, a man for whom Ricketts has the utmost respect. Hoddle can now be found speaking highly of Ricketts, wherever he goes. “Massive” is how Ricketts first described Hoddle’s impact on his career. “He helped me get into the actual industry at a certain level (first team). He was the first person to really give me a chance. I will always be grateful to him for that.”

Unfortunately for Ricketts, Hoddle would be sacked six matches into his stay with Spurs and, says Ricketts, “The guy who took over after, we didn’t really get along.” He would stay at Tottenham for two years, where he made 30 appearances. In the final month of Ricketts’ second season, he was loaned to Wolverhampton, where he would be reunited with manager Glen Hoddle. Ricketts would score one goal for Wolves, and play very well under Hoddle yet again. Wolverhampton was quick to show interest in Ricketts, as his contract with Tottenham came up for renewal at the end of his loan. The winger was faced with multiple offers from the Premiership, but would decide to stay where he felt comfortable, with Hoddle influencing his decision quite a bit. “I just knew that Glen liked me and he believed in me.” There is no doubting that Hoddle has had a significant impact on Ricketts’ career, with him telling me that as fans we really don’t understand how much of an impact a manager can actually have on a player’s career.

In 2007, Ricketts would sign with Barnsley, a team that Ricketts was glad to join. “When I got to the club, I was excited. I had had a really good preseason, and I was very optimistic.” Ricketts impressed both fans and coaches with his early play; however a major road block lay ahead for the young Londoner. He would injure himself, and sit for two months, a lay-off that severely altered his chances of returning to the starting eleven.

At first, the team did not play well, and a shake-up ensued. Ricketts would be moved from his familiar spot on the right flank to a more central role. However, the injury bug would again catch up with Ricketts, and he was forced out of the lineup for a considerable amount of time. Barnsley would, in the absence of Ricketts, go on a successful run in which they gained points in almost every match. The starting eleven was set, and Ricketts could not force his way back into the lineup, while attempts to go on loan were shot down as well. Ricketts had become a frustrated man, and who could blame him?

This frustration has, however, been a blessing for Toronto FC and its fans. After the trade of Ronnie O’Brien to San Jose, the Reds were severely in need of a right-sided player to fill the hole that had been left by O’Brien. John Carver and Mo Johnston would approach Ricketts’ agent, and they had found the right man. When he was approached, Ricketts had to think long and hard about the offer, but in the end Ricketts decided, “It may be far, but it’s football.” He was coming to Toronto on a trial.

The formerly disgruntled, but now ecstatic, midfielder had been given a chance to play the game he so dearly loves, football. The MLS intrigued Ricketts, who sees it as one of the fastest growing leagues in the world. When asked if his move to Canada was meant to simply act as a launching pad back to Europe, Ricketts was quick to express his interest in being a part of the growth of the league. He has no plans to jet off for Europe any time soon, and it sounded like he was looking to connect with the fans quite a bit.

The Skittles Man, who is a naturally two-footed player, will be featured on the right side. His versatility, however, should give defenders nightmares. “I can go either way,” said Ricketts, “It gives me an extra string on the ball.”

Ricketts’ ability to attack fullbacks with either his right or left foot, along with his wicked pace, gives him the ability to cause havoc for defenders. Add to that the fact that Ricketts is looking forward to linking up with Marvell Wynne, and you have one of the fastest and most dynamic right sides in the league. The Reds now also boast an impressive midfield that can lay claim to some of the leagues biggest names, thanks to the additions of Ricketts, Robert, and Guevara. It is almost night and day, when comparing the clubs opening day lineup to the one that will now attempt to give the fans their first win of 2008 in Los Angeles this weekend.

There is no doubting that Ricketts is impressed with Toronto. He speaks highly of the city and cannot wait to get out and explore it. He also seems at ease with the club, and in particular he speaks highly of Toronto FC coach John Carver, who was instrumental in bringing him over from England. “John seems like a really, really good coach…It’s been really refreshing, a coach telling me to play football the right way.”

“I’m naturally gifted, I’ve got pace, trickery as well…and I’d like to add some goals and assists as well,” said Ricketts, while sipping on his Gatorade. “I’ve got goals in me, and I’ve always been someone that wants to assist someone.” That to me is refreshing to hear.

Toronto FC’s newest addition will join Toronto on the flight down to Los Angeles on Friday, and when asked if he would be starting, Ricketts was quick to say, “I assume so, I mean I should be.”

And if he starts, and scores, look for Ricketts to be wearing a particularly personal shirt, one with which many people will be familiar. Welcome to Toronto FC, Rohan!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rohan Ricketts Interview Coming Tomorrow

An interview with Rohan Ricketts will be up tomorrow.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

MLS All-Stars vs West Ham

West Ham United is coming to BMO Field. The press release from Toronto FC has started to circulate around the Internet, making what was suspected for quite a while now official. The London based club, who currently sit 10th in the Barclays Premier League, will take on Major League Soccer's best in the annual All Star Game on July 24th.

There are going to be many questions raised over the next few weeks, as to why West Ham is being brought in. Many fans expected a big name club to be featured, with Chelsea and Celtic being the previous two opponents of the Major League Soccer's best, which is a primary reason for the widespread disappointment. West Ham is a massive step down from the rumoured opponents that were being thrown around early in the off-season, with Liverpool having been made front runners, along with other top European club teams. Fans were looking forward to seeing Steven Gerrard, Franck Ribéry, or Ruud Van Nistelrooy at BMO Field this summer; however they will be watching the likes of Craig Bellamy, Dean Ashton and Fredrik Ljungberg. Still quality players, yes, but nowhere near the quality of those names previously mentioned. West Ham simply does not have the "wow factor" that is associated with other European teams, and that is what has fans disappointed.

You really only have to look at the official press release to see that there were very few positives to write about, with the 4th paragraph saying this "West Ham United features one of soccer’s most recognizable jerseys, with the claret body and sky blue sleeves." Wow, jerseys, nice. Is that going to be one of the major selling points? I guess they had run out of good things to write about, and it was only the 4th paragraph.

One interesting point to look at is this. How can an expansion side, Toronto FC, take on Aston Villa and Benfica in friendlies, yet the league cannot schedule a match with an opponent for the All Stars that is considered better than either Benfica or Aston Villa? This is supposed to be a showcase for the growth and quality of this league, yet it seems to be a step backwards to me. I think we can all agree that Benfica is a more well known team than West Ham, with a larger global fan base, and that Aston Villa are of the same quality or even better than the Hammers.

So why is it West Ham? The league is not trying to purposely screw us over, which means that there are reasons for the choice. Here are a couple problems that may have factored into the lack of quality teams knocking on Major League Soccer's door.

- The turf at BMO Field

The last two venues (Toyota Park and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park) to host the All Star Game have featured natural grass pitches. These were also the two venues that brought in arguably the best opposition in Celtic and Chelsea. Almost everyone has complained about the poor quality of the artificial turf at BMO Field, and it could have easily scared away many top teams from risking their player’s health in a meaningless cash grab.

- Euro 2008

The tournament that will crown Europe's best team, which takes place from June 7th to June 29th, may have played a factor in scaring away better teams. The tournament will only have finished around a month before the All Star Game, and we all know how serious teams have become when it comes to resting their top players for the upcoming season. West Ham can only lay claim to one player, Freddie Ljungberg, who will be playing in the tournament this summer. Luis Boa Morte could also be gone, playing for Portugal, but he is not as sure a bet as Ljungberg. The rest of the squad is, well, pretty much English, which should be no problem, considering the fact that England will be watching the tournament from home this year. Other top club teams with rosters that feature some of Europe’s best players, may have labeled the trip to Toronto as too much of a risk and hassle to deal with.

Who knows if either of those two issues did indeed play a factor in West Ham being named the opponent for the 2008 MLS All Star Game? This is all just speculation from someone who does not have any inside knowledge of the decision making. However both seem like valid reasons why a more prestigious team was not chosen. Maybe we will never know why, but if Don Garber or anyone from MLSE says West Ham was always are first choice, well maybe they were the best option.

Overall, it is hard to not be disappointed with this news. Very few people were sitting in their homes, praying that West Ham would be named the opponent for the 2008 All Star team. However no one can deny the fact that we will still see a very good game, and in the end, isn’t that all that really matters?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Just a few thoughts on the days events:

Canada lost today to Estonia, yes you read that right, and although the game was played in near whiteout conditions, and the familiar green of the pitch was no longer visible, this is still a poor result for the Canucks. This now means that coming out of the Gold Cup, the Canadian Men's National Team (A team) has not won a game. In that time, we have faced South Afirca's B team, an island of 313,376 people, Iceland, Costa Rica and Estonia. If Canada wants to seriously think about 2010, than something has to change for the better. This has all occured under Dale Mitchell, who has had quite the win-loss record over the past while. Both team's had to play in the exact same conditions, and Estonia came out on top. Our midfield, as always, was our strong point, but as many people pointed out our defence looked suspect and our forwards, wait we had forwards? I'm hoping that today's poor play simply had to do with the poor weather, but with the poor showing in South Africa, which was honestly one of the worst games I have seen in a while, being followed up with yet another questionable result, one has to wonder. How well will Canada do when World Cup qualifying starts? Will Rob Friend be able to translate his scoring success at the club level to the national level? Because without Friend, the Canucks are going to be hard pressed to find scoring. If one of De Rosario, Julian De Guzman, or Iain Hume go down with an injury, we are in trouble. Let's hope Canada's next game, against superpower nation Panama, brings about a better result.

Montreal Impact
News surfaced today that Montreal is moving closer and closer to realizing their MLS dream. Under the original guidance of the Saputo family, who are serious about moving their beloved team into the best league in North America, Montreal's potential move had always been considered very likely. Today, news came out of Montreal that George Gillett is interested in forming a partnership with the Saputo's. This is only good news for Impact fans, as Gillett would give more life to this already strong bid. I am all for Montreal receiving a team, and I simply cannot wait for a Toronto-Montreal derby to form. When it comes to Don Garber and Co. choosing a location for further expansion, it is going to have to take some seriously red, white and blue coloured glasses to ignore seriously looking at Montreal.

Canada Cup Dates
• Toronto FC at Montreal Impact - May 27, 2008 (Stade Saputo)• Vancouver Whitecaps at Montreal Impact (Stade Saputo) - June 17, 2008• Montreal Impact at Vancouver Whitecaps (Swangard Stadium) - June 25, 2008• Vancouver Whitecaps at Toronto FC (BMO Field) - July 1, 2008• Toronto FC at Vancouver Whitecaps (Swangard Stadium) - July 9, 2008• Montreal Impact at Toronto FC (BMO Field) - July 22, 2008

It sucks that the away game in Montreal is on a Tuesday, I will not be able to attend, but hopefully Toronto will send strong support to Montreal. I'm just glad that this tournament is taking place, and really, people should just be happy with that. Watching on TV is fine, for once.

Amado Guavera to TFC heats up
According to Steve Goff, Toronto is still very interested in aquiring former MLS MVP Amado Guavera. This now means that SBI and Goff have linked TFC with Guavera, sounds pretty credible to me. My opinion on Guavera, would you honestly want him on our team going into the season or would you want us without Guavera at this point? I'm going to say with, his attitude problems are well documented, but John Carver won't take any BS from his players, and I'm sure he would keep the sometimes hot-headed star under control. This would be a great first step in strengthening our somewhat suspect midfield and attack.

Argos to BMO?
From today's Toronto Star
"The stadium is a big success right now and Toronto FC (the city's Major League Soccer franchise) is a big success. It looks like the stadium may have to expand to meet the needs of soccer and at that time we could consider (having the Argos as a tenant)," Miller said.

MLSE, you know how we feel as fans of Toronto FC about this, and although this looks to be nothing, the fact that this is still floating around shows that it is still a possibility. There will be a lot of unhappy ticket holders if a move like this were to go through, don't do it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dichio's 2008 Season - Set Up For Failure?

Oh Danny Dichio, you brought us two of the most memorable moments on the pitch last season, when you scored two ever so rare goals. First was, well, the first ever, it was what will go down as one of the most famous goals in the history of the club. Next was the last strike of the season, one of the best goals Toronto fans have witnessed in the clubs short and sometimes sour history. Both moments brought bedlam to BMO, whether it was the throwing of seat cushions or me wildly running up and down section 225, Dichio's 2007 season will forever be remembered by Toronto fans. He was not the flashiest player, he was not the most talented player, he was not the fastest player, but he won over the fans with his tough, clutch, and always passionate play. This part of Dichio's game will never be forgotten, and he may go down as Toronto's most simple, humble, and untalented sporting legends, because a legend to me is someone who will forever be remembered. No matter what Danny does in 2008, he has left his mark on the club, but 2008 may present some new challenges for #9. A lack of service, and playing time. Toronto fans don't care that he has no hair, but will they care if he cannot score?

First of all, let’s make one thing clear, Danny Dichio may be older, but we should see an improved Dichio in terms of match fitness and potential ability. For much of last season, he was injured, playing through multiple injuries that would have sidelined you and me for weeks. Dichio, however, fought through these injuries game in and game out, but his play was severely hindered by these injuries. The Dichio that we saw last season was not the Dichio that we could potentially see in 2008, but I do say potentially for a reason.

To outsiders, who have never seen Dichio play, you may think that the 6 foot 3 striker is a super talented player, but he is not. Put the ball at Dichio's feet outside the 18-yard box, and you would be lucky to see anything develop. He really is a one dimensional player in terms of talent, as direct delivery to the London native inside the box is the best route to go. His sheer size can cause multiple problems for opposing defenders, who continually are forced to clutch, grab, and pull down Dichio to stop him. Many defenders have been destroyed by Dichio in his short career in North America, and more are surely to follow. But will they be destroyed out of frustration instead this season? Toronto's starting XI, up front at least, looks to be set, and it does not include Dichio. This may be a smart move, and here is why.

Danny Dichio is a target man, and to be a target man, you need to have good crossers of the ball on either side of the midfield. Dichio had one to his right last season, in Ronnie O'Brien, but he is no longer a part of the club, after the right sided player was traded to the left coast. On the left, Dichio had, well, no one really. The revolving door that was the left wing has not stopped. Last season it was Andy Welsh, Colin Samuel, or even Adam Braz. None of the just mentioned were good could do much of anything on the left. This season, Todd Dunivant is expected to take over, and with all due respect to Todd, who is in my mind a very underrated defender and wonderful person, he has not shown the ability to play on the left. He is not going to supply Dichio with the pin-point crosses that are needed from the wing. So if you have average delivery from the left, surely Mo Johnston replaced O'Brien, well, ye-no.

The right side remains, as the left side, relatively unproven. Some people have suggested that Marvell Wynne should be moved forward, and he surely has the pace, but based on last season Wynne's ability to cross the ball is average at best, and he is better kept at the back where he should shine in 2008. That leaves trialist, and soon to be signed Martin Brittain. The 23 year old has impressed Johnston with his crossing ability which has always been considered very good. In England, Brittain's name routinely appeared in match reports, like this "Martin Brittain's right-wing delivery is met by the head of Paul Huntington for a deserved equaliser". He also was the usual taker of set pieces wherever he was in England, which just supports the point that he has a very good right foot. But his fitness and pace have always been questioned. When released from Walsall he was described as being "clearly short of match fitness and sharpness". The fact that Brittain is a good crosser is fantastic, it's what Dichio needs, but if you cannot get open because of a lack of pace, you cannot cross the ball. I guess Brittain will fall under the wait and see category, but he is in no way a Ronnie O'Brien type player, and Dichio will need much better from the right if he is to succeed this season.

Johnston should have filled these holes with two top drawer players, he has the money, but he did not. He has left the two most important holes on this team wide open, and there seems to be nothing to cover them on the way. Toronto FC will not succeed this season without a good right and left sided player, and Dichio will fall with the club. Opposing teams will be able to stack their defenders down the middle, as they did last season, and take away any entry or delivery through the middle. This will take away the two ways of entry to the box, making it difficult for Toronto to score, again. Jim Brennan better have his leg ready again this season, because his long distant screamer may need to be copied continually this season if the Reds are to stay away from 0's on the scoreboard.

So with Dichio without anyone, so far, on either side that can really find the tall target man, Dichio may find it hard to find the score sheet in Toronto this season. The addition of an attacking midfielder, in the form of Amado Guavera, would brighten the situation, but at this point in time he is not with the Reds. The ability is out there, in the form of a plethora of cap space, to give make both Danny Dichio and Toronto FC success stories in 2008, but money continues to sit there being unused. A logical thinker would assume that help is on the way, maybe from Europe (sorry, England), but Dichio will surely find it tough to score in Columbus, and will find trouble until that help arrives, but even if Dichio does not score, his name will continue to be belted out by Toronto FC fans, because he is a legend no matter what.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

In Argentina

I will be in Argentina for the next 2 weeks, hopefully I will attend a game at some point. Have a good two weeks! Hopefully we sign a couple players while I am gone.


Friday, March 7, 2008

Asia and Africa: Goldmines for TFC

With MLS clubs starting to reach out to other continents for players, primarily Europe and South America, the league is quickly losing its image as a primarily domestic league. It is hard to imagine the league's rosters being filled with American/Canadian born players 5 years from now, as the league continues to loosen its restrictions on bringing in senior international players. People like Don Garber have realized that if the league is to grow, the "USA first" frame of mind must be abolished. Yes, there should still be a focus on producing top domestic players, but the league simply will not grow far past where it is now if the doors are not opened to the rest of the world.

Clubs like District of Columbia United have started to realize this, with United signing multiple South American players like Franco Niell and Gonzalo Peralta. South America will be a major contributor to this league in the near future, and 5 years down the road it is likely that you will see North American clubs snatching the leftovers from European raids of this talented continent. Toronto FC has yet to make a dent in South America, unless you consider Paulo Nagamura a dent; however Mo Johnston has made trips down south to scout out talent and check out the beaches. He has come back empty handed, and with a sun burn. Toronto may not be the most appealing option for South American players, to many in the southern hemisphere Canada is nothing more than a ice-hockey loving snow filled country. It's not impossible to picture multiple Brazilians or Argentineans playing for the Reds down the road, but it seems unlikely. The United States just seems like a better option to many South American players, so should Toronto FC get a head start on the next goldmine of talent?

Well, you would first have to pick which continent to raid. Taking Europe and South America out of the equation leaves you with Africa and Asia, two up and coming soccer powerhouse continents on the world stage, Antarctica, do we want a penguin as our DP? And Oceania, a poor option, as Australia reigns supreme in a shallow continental talent pool. So... Let's go with Africa and Asia.

Africa is again in the southern hemisphere; however no MLS clubs have attempted to make a dent in the continent, meaning that to many African players, to come to North America would mean to come to Toronto. Africa is a soccer rich continent, which can routinely hold the African Cup of Nations, a tournament full of talented nations and their players. It really was a treat to watch the 2008 version, and those who still doubted the continents ability to produce top drawer players should now be silenced. The talent pool in Africa may be one of the deepest in the world, and it remains relatively untapped when compared to other areas around the world. European clubs have taken notice of late, and some of the top players in the top leagues now come from the impoverished continent. However, one would think that there are still hundreds or thousands of talented players left in Africa.

2008 winners, and African powerhouse Egypt have a strong domestic league, and many of the national teams top players like winning goal scorer Mohamed Aboutreika, tournament MVP Hosny Abd Rabo and Amr Zaky, were playing in the Egyptian Premier League. Out of reach for MLS teams? Probably, but you never know. Money can be the deciding factor in many players’ lives, and Toronto FC has deep pockets. This is an area that is completely untapped by Major League Soccer, and if Toronto FC were to set up a partnership with some of the top leagues in Africa, signings could come. The Canadian club would obviously have to compete with European clubs for the continents top players, but the simple fact that there are so many countries with so many talented players screams success. Toronto FC would be smart to make some calls, and start to look at Africa seriously. The immigration issues that apparently have held back the club on other signings would have to be worked out, and that could be a major issue, but with one of the largest and richest ownership groups backing your team it is hard to not think that some sort of scouting system and or partnership could be set up in the near future.

Asia is your second option, the home of the J-League and K-League. A very talented continent that is full of skilled players, and again is basically uncharted land for MLS. Japan and Korea, the continents two most successful nations, seem to be the first two countries that jump to people's minds. Japan's J-League is a passionately followed league that has produced some very good players over the years, players like Naohiro Takahara, Shunsuke Nakamura and Koki Mizuno all played in the J-League before jumping to other leagues. North America is a very appealing option to many people in Asia, and that comes from speaking to people I have met overseas. The J-League may not be the most talented league in the world, but it produces very good players and Toronto would be smart to look to Asia to again snatch up young talent or bring in some of the more established players in the league today. My knowledge of the J-League is not amazing, but having watched many highlight shows and games on TV I can say that the top players in the league would do well in North America. There are probably more knowledgeable people who could point to the best options from Japan, who get to watch the J-League routinely.

Korea has the K-League, average at best according to most fans, yet looking at the amount of Korean players making significant impacts around the world makes you wonder if Toronto or other MLS teams will realize that former World Cup host's are a viable option. The J-League would obviously be the first option, but Korea does offer another untapped talent pool. Other countries like Iraq, winners of the 2007 Asian Cup, are also up and coming options. The entire continent is basically neglected by European teams, leaving clubs like Toronto FC to move in.

Toronto FC has the chance to set up themselves for the future by forming relationships overseas with some of the top African and Asian clubs. Many knowledgeable and respected minds believe that he MLS has the ability to become a top tier league, and soon it will not be as hard for teams to bring in top drawer players. At this point, teams will be forced to look elsewhere for talent and Toronto could easily get ahead of the game and ensure that they are players for years to come by becoming a major player in both Africa and Asia.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Internal Improvement Key to TFC

In the 18th minute, on a cold October night, with a thick fog hanging over BMO Field, Marvell Wynne sent a beautiful ball into Maurice Edu's path. The rookie midfielder had made a smart run into the box where he met the ball almost instantly with his right foot. Wasting no time, he coolly slotted the ball past Red Bulls 'keeper Ronald Waterreus, giving Toronto the 1-0 lead. On this night, the success of Toronto FC had a lot to do with Edu and Wynne, but could the success of Toronto FC's second season in the MLS ride on these two players, both of whom have yet to reach their 22nd birthday?

It seems ridiculous to some, but they are two players who are currently with the team that could make the difference between a successful season and an unsuccessful one. With so much emphasis being placed on improvements from the outside, fans have neglected the fact that internal improvements can also occur, and lead to a more successful season than the last. The improvement of 21-year old midfielder Maurice Edu, and 21-year old right-back Marvell Wynne, could make an enormous impact on Toronto FC this season. With both entering their second season with the club, they may have to step up and become integral parts of the team on the field, even more so than they both were in their first year north of the border.

If you watched Maurice Edu last year, from the start of the season straight through to its conclusion, you would have seen the American vastly improve his all around game as the season wore on. A player that sometimes looked lost during the initial stages slowly emerged as one of the clubs best players and his role continued to grow in importance as the campaign dragged on into the summer months. He was often featured as a central midfielder, sometimes dropping back with or in the absence of Carl Robinson, other times pushing forward into a more attacking role. His box-to-box ability as a player became evidently clear, along with his versatility as a player. The Maurice Edu of early 2007, a still impressive rookie trying to find his game, had truly evolved as a player. Toronto FC started to rely on him more and more as the injuries stacked up, and European clubs took notice of the midfielder’s solid play. Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill took obvious notice in their friendly against the Canadian club, as an invitation was later delivered to Edu asking him to come on trial during the MLS offseason. Edu politely pushed away this invitation, another indicator of his growth as a player.

Why is this a indicator you ask? Well, he had good reason to not fly overseas; he had been called up to the United States men's national team. The rarely capped American at lower levels had jumped onto the radar screens of the national team’s management with his solid play and rookie of the year honours. He would play in many of the national teams key matchups over the offseason, giving the young midfielder and the fans the confidence that Edu had arrived on the North American soccer scene. The Maurice Edu that TFC fans will see in 2008 will surely be a much improved version; he has apparently looked great in training and has worked consistently over the winter months on his finishing ability. This new and improved Edu should have an immediate impact on the on field play of the team, he should step into the role of midfield general. He will be the centre of Toronto FC's starting XI and will be relied on heavily.

The improvements made in such a short span of time when it comes to Edu's career should give you the confidence that he will be able to shoulder the load and step up in his sophomore season. A sophomore jinx, common in many sports, shouldn't follow Edu in 2008. Fellow American Sacha Kljestan stepped up in his sophomore season to become one of the better midfielders in the league, after receiving high praise, much like Edu, coming out of his rookie season, and I see no reason why Edu should not do the same. In fact Edu, even at the age of 21, could step up and become one of the top midfielders in the league if his progression as a player continues along the same line. He is a strong defensive player who can easily score 6+ goals in a season, and with what seems to be a solid backline and a healthy Carl Robinson, Edu should be free to make his impact felt up front. Is he an attacking midfielder? Not really, but he could easily be one of the best all around midfielders this season, and Toronto FC will benefit thanks to a much improved Maurice Edu.

Marvell Wynne, on the other hand, flew under the radar while with New York. The initial reaction of many new Toronto fans when the right-back was acquired was simply, who? However Wynne's dynamic pace combined with solid play at the back quickly drew praise from Toronto fans. He established himself as a strong, reliable defender who could easily step forward with his wicked pace. His ability as an attacking player was displayed against the Colorado Rapids, when Wynne made a beautiful run forward before dancing around two Rapids defenders, and jabbing the ball to Danny Dichio who tapped it in. This ability to quickly go on the attack was obviously influenced when Wynne was pushed forward in the absence of the now departed Ronnie O'Brien, but it was clear that the young back could easily push up if need be.

However you will be hard pressed to find him there again, as John Carver and Mo Johnston have both stated that they would like to see him back in his natural position at right-back, which may be good as Wynne's crossing ability was less than impressive. He will join an already solid backline that should include the likes of MVP Jim Brennan, the underappreciated Todd Dunivant, bone breaker Tyrone Marshall and impressive rookie (or so we've heard) Julius James.

Wynne has received numerous looks from the national team, and was called up for the Copa American tournament; he should be a constant member of the team in the years to come. He is now moving into his 3rd season in the league, and he could easily become one of the better full-backs in the league. He is a strong tackler who will only improve again this season, giving Toronto a dynamic and versatile option at the back; he is a player who can easily stay with any player in the league. Defenders may often be overlooked when it comes to a team’s success, but an improved Marvell Wynne, who by all accounts has been fantastic in camp, should do wonders for the Reds. And although you may not see Wynne on the right side of midfield at the start of the game, a solid backline should allow Wynne to move up. John Carver has made it clear that the use of full-backs in England, where they are relied on heavily by many clubs, will carry over to Toronto. Expect Wynne to step up in 2008.

You've just read about two young players who are set to improve this coming season, and become key members of the 2008 version of Toronto FC. Gabe Gala and Joey Melo are also two players who could make the jump this season, with Gala being my pick of the two. The Nigerian born youngster, a natural defender, can move up and play on the left side of midfield if needed. He did not look out of place with the senior team last season in limited time, and could step up and play a more important role this season. Melo, who did not overly impress this season according to some fans, has looked like a new player in camp. According to journalists and Carver, Melo was the best player in many training sessions. Improvements in both players’ games would be great for the club.

However, what about some older players who can improve this season? In other articles I touched on the fact that I expect huge improvements in both Jeff Cunningham and Danny Dichio's game. Both were injured for the majority of last season, and a healthy version of the Fast and Furious striker pairing should give TFC the two impact players they need up front. This is just another example of two players who should add to the internal improvement of the club. We can all pray that our two flanks will be ready to go come March 29th, because Dichio should thrive with two points of consistent delivery.

Internal improvement will be key to Toronto FC's success in 2008, and Marvell Wynne along with Maurice Edu should lead the way. Both are fantastic young players who will sadly leave us very soon during their time with the American U23 team in the summer, and may be gone for Europe by as soon as 2009. However we will be able to benefit from both players improvements for the majority of the season, and both will hopefully be leading the Reds into the 2008 playoffs.