[MLS TEAM PREVIEWS]So many players stormed through the ranks of Toronto FC's roster last season, more than a dozen played fewer than a dozen games.
Those players who survived the 6-17-7 season and interminable stretches without scoring have emerged from the rubble to train under the gaze of ex-head coach and manager/director of soccer Mo Johnston, and his appointee, John Carver, of whom little is known and much will be discovered.
In the European tradition espoused by Johnston, he - as manager -- will attend to trades, transfers and other player personnel matters, and it's up to head coach Carver to run practices, devise tactics, and win games. Carver has more than a decade of experience coaching in England but aside from a brief pre-Christmas visit to Toronto, is seeing all that the league entails for the first time.
In the bright light of a Florida in February, TFC doesn't look all that bad, when a few key draft picks and possible signees are brought under scrutiny. Last year, TFC fielded 32 players, and when a decimating run of injuries hit, few of them proved to be truly major league. In 2008, presumably, the fewer will be the better, yet deeper.
"Overall the team played pretty well," says 2007 Rookie of the Year Maurice Edu, whose excellent play last year lends great hope to the BMO faithful. "There are going to be ups and downs and the fact we were an expansion team we maybe weren't as deep as we should have been. When we did get injuries it really set our team back."
Danny Dichio, Jeff Cunningham and Ronnie O'Brien played a combined 46 games, barely half of the 90 available had all three played in every game. Given a fairer break with injuries, and veteransCarl Robinson, Jim Brennan, Todd Dunivant and Tyrone Marshallslotted into the lineup, Edu securing the middle and Marvell Wynne adapting to the right side of midfield, that isn't a bad foundation.
As he showed last year in moving Edu straight into the starting lineup after taking him with the No. 1 SuperDraft pick and bringing youngsters Joey Melo and Andreas Lombardo onto the team, Johnston can spot and hone talent. Now comes building depth, and winning.
With the ninth and 10th picks, respectively, in last month's SuperDraft TFC grabbed Connecticut defender Julius James and Wake Forest midfielder/defender Pat Phelan. TFC gave up 49 goals last year while using five keepers, and another draft pick, Phelan's college teammate Brian Edwards, is playing sharply in goal.
Starter Greg Sutton, who played just eight games last year because of concussions, has been cleared to play, yet another Canadian keeper, Josh Wagenaar, is training with the team as a free agent.
TFC played a 0-0 draw with Danish club Odense BK on Monday. Edu and Robinson had arrived in Florida the night before and played the first half. New Zealand native Jarrod Smith, formerly of West Virginia University and USL club Crystal Palace Baltimore, was picked in the 2007 Supplemental Draft. Also on trial is Tyler Rosenlund, a British Colombia product who endured a rough spell at AIK Stockholm in Sweden after leaving UC Santa Barbara early. Both played against Odense and in Thursday's rematch might be joined by forward Collin Samuel, who scored three goals in 18 games as a midseason addition last year. He is supposed to arrive in camp Tuesday and will give Johnston and Carver another option up top as they use their ample opportunities to measure their players against league competition.
In March, TFC plays Chivas USA, D.C. United, and Houston in the Texas Pro Soccer Festival in San Antonio, and faces New York and San Jose as well as Charleston of the USL in the Carolina Challenge Cup. Lots of work to do for a team that is the first in MLS to use a manager in the European sense, and a head coach as per the American way.
"I'm really excited at the chance to try a totally new challenge," said Johnston, who says he will sit on the bench during matches. "It's a great opportunity to step into a job like this having been involved with the team from the outset."
MLS Preseason Previews
Jan. 28 -- Real Salt Lake
Jan. 29 -- D.C. United
Jan. 30 -- New England
Jan. 31 -- Columbus
Feb. 1 -- FC Dallas
Feb. 5 -- Chicago
Feb. 6 -- Kansas City
Feb. 7 -- Chivas USA
Feb. 8 -- New York
Feb. 12 -- Colorado