I recently spoke with Toronto defender Todd Dunivant about the upcoming season, and his views on the league.
Last year was a disappointing year for the club, going into this season how are you feeling yourself, and how are you feeling about the club?
The biggest difference this year compared to last year will be expectations and that is a very good thing. We don't have the excuse of being an expansion team any more and that will only push us to be better as a team. it was all to easy to just brush off losses because we weren't 'supposed' to win last year anyway. As a group, we have our sights set on the playoffs and it will be important to get off to a good start since our schedule will be pretty hectic at the end of the year with the new Champions Cup tournament. As for me personally, I'm very excited about the upcoming year. I was in training camp with the US Natl Team for all of January and there is no better way to prepare for the season than training in that environment day in and day out. It's a higher level as guys are competing for spots every day. I felt as though I had a good camp and that will hopefully carry over to TFC and serve as a good foundation for the rest of the year.
Are you aware that for the opening game in Columbus, over 1000 Toronto FC fans will be making the trip down to see the game?
We've heard about the fans road tripping to Columbus and couldn't be more excited. I remember playing in Columbus last year and our fans made a dramatic and very pronounced entrance during warmups. The entire stadium took notice and it was obvious that our fans took that place over. Can't wait for it again...it's a huge boost for us and we are anxious to reward the fans.
Last season how were the coaching duties split between Bob Gansler and Mo Johnston?
The coaching duties were split like most teams. Bob Gansler and Mike Matkovich would generally take the first half of training, which usually included warmup, possession, etc. Mo would observe and put his two cents in when needed. Then Mo would take the last half of practice which usually involved games to goal. But all the coaches were always involved in the practice and added little bits here and there.
When you heard that John Carver was the new coach, what were your first thoughts?
We had heard rumors that Mo might be taking on more of a GM type role so it wasn't a huge shock when I heard that John Carver was taking over as head coach. Moving forward, I think it will be a huge boost to the club because we are beefing up our staff and allowing Mo to specialize in player acquisitions. He will still be heavily involved in the makeup of our team and will be in the locker room every day, so from that standpoint, things won't change much. John will bring a wealth of experience and knowledge and I have only heard good things about him. We also brought in Paul Winsper from Newcastle as our strength and conditioning. These moves just go to show how committed our organization is to winning and putting a good product on the field. These little details go a long way, especially over the course of a 8 month season. John and Paul are fantastic additions and now we just have to secure George and Ringo, and we'll be all set.
What are your impressions of John Carver now that you have seen him coach?
I am meeting up with the team tomorrow in Florida. I have not yet met John Carver since I have been away with the US team.Major League Soccer has seen a move towards more liberal rules on the roster restrictions of many clubs, including Toronto FC.
Do you feel that these more liberal rules are a good thing going forward?
The roster rule changes will be a great benefit to our club and to our league as a whole. More international slots are necessary in order to keep the talent pool strong during all of these expansion years. The league is adding teams at a rate of about 1 per year and the domestic pool is being thinned a bit. On the flip side, most teams are not going to be able to afford 8 international players due to the low salary cap. For TFC, last year was a bit of an experiment regarding our player rules. And after evaluating how it went, the league felt we were at a competitive disadvantage by not having access to more domestic (American) based players. While it is still very important to have Canadian players on this team, the league recognized that denying us access to the much larger pool of American players was unfair. Take the superdraft for instance...the vast majority of those players are Americans and we should have as much right to those players as everybody else.
The salary cap is currently set at around 2.3 million if I am not mistaken. Do you feel that this is an issue that needs to be addressed in the near future?
The 2.3 million dollar salary cap is obviously too low right now. The salary cap has not kept pace with the growth of the league and with the growth of revenues league wide. The financial landscape in MLS is a lot different than it was 3 or 4 years ago. The league signed a $150 endorsement deal with Adidas, expansion teams are going for $30 million compared to $10 million just a few years ago, major tv contracts with ESPN, FSC, HDnet, Univision, CBC, and others have further bolstered the league's bottom line. Soccer specific stadiums are popping up all over the country and that is fueling higher profits. Jersey sponsors are another major revenue source. The league has done quite well in the past few years and is clearly here to stay. All of that growth and revenue should be reflected in a higher salary cap, which will only increase the viability and quality of the league. It is certainly something that will be addressed at the next collective bargaining agreement after the 2009 season.
In your mind, does the new Champions League carry the same importance as the League Cup?
The new Champions League is very exciting for us players. It is a chance, first and foremost, to compete against Montreal and Vancouver which will be great for the fans. Those games will have incredible atmospheres and will take on a different level of intensity. We can't wait for that. It's difficult to compare it to the League Cup, which is our number one priority. We will definitely be amped for it though...bragging rights are at stake.
Growing up in the United States, what was your youth development like as a soccer player?
Growing up, I played for the Colorado Rush Soccer Club in Denver, Colorado. I played 7 years with Conor Casey, who was here last year. In addition to club soccer, I played ODP (olympic development program) which started out at the state level. Once you make your state team, you compete against all of the other states in your region (there are four regions). From that tournament, a Regional team is chosen. If you make the regional team, you then compete against the three other regions in hopes of making the National team. My birthday fell at the end of the year so i was always essentially playing up a year in ODP which made it difficult. But it definitely challenged me to be a better player. It was at regional camp where Bobby Clark saw me and recruited me to Stanford.
And finally, if you could pick one word to describe your experience with the club, city, and fans last year, what would it be?
eye-opening (it has a hyphen so i'm counting it as one word)
I would like to thank Todd for doing this interview, and I hope to speak to him again very soon!