By Ridge Mahoney
Less than a month into preseason, Real Salt Lake coach John Ellinger is questioning his latest experiment with a 3-5-2 formation, and Toronto supremo Mo Johnston axed three trialists for stinking up the place while mentioning more than a few of the bodies still on the roster weren't doing much better.
This is good. Volatility at any stage of the season, even preseason, livens up the often staid world of Major League Soccer.
NEW ADU.One beneficiary of RSL playing five in midfield would be, of course, Freddy Adu, as the additional support would enable him to concentrate on ripping open the opposition as designated playmaker. Whether he's ready to assume that role at this point in his career is as much a function of the league's style and his teammates' ability as it is his own talents and experience. Of the playmakers in MLS - Dwayne DeRosario, Christian Gomez, Amado Guevara, Justin Mapp, Andy Dorman, Jose Cancela, Andy Williams about exhaust the list - only the first two are bonafide stars, with Guevara capable of regaining that status with a move to Chivas USA. (Guevara's MVP award two years ago notwithstanding.)
It's way too early to panic, yet Ellinger certainly is under some pressure. He is in the final year of a three-year contract, Adu's arrival adds another complex, glaringly visible element to his task, and now that the RSL stadium issue is finally resolved, the considerable press coverage - several reporters were on hand to track the team's visit to Florida - will focus all the more on the team's performance.
That Ellinger has a strong cast of midfielders isn't in dispute. Preseason is the time to try out various formations and combinations. But of the three teams (Kansas City and Columbus are the others) that have failed to reach the playoffs the past two years, only Ellinger has been in charge since 2005.
MO KNOWS. Junaid Hartley (South Africa), Garfield Reid (Jamaica) and Hector Hurtado (Colombia) were sent home earlier this week from Toronto's training camp in Sunrise, Fla.
Toronto FC lost to the Canadian under-20s, 2-1, on Tuesday, and Johnston mentioned a few of them looked better than his group, several of whom play for the full national team. Thursday, TFC rebounded to outscore the U-20s, 3-0, in two 30-minute scrimmages. Probably not a coincidence.
Johnston has been putting the players through double sessions and even a few triples. The grueling, intense work is being directed by strength and conditioning coach Paul Winsper, who has worked with several English clubs.
From the Telling It Like It Is Dept. (Preseason Section), comes this observation from Canadian international midfielder Jim Brennan on what aspect of camp he dislikes the most: "The training. I hate preseason."
On the front-office front, the team has sold 12,500 season tickets and is probably destined to become the first team in league history to cap season-ticket sales. That's an amazing accomplishment, and Johnston knows with big crowds and intense media scrutiny come high standards.
DAMAGED GOODS?Just a few months after helping Houston win MLS Cup 2006, midfielder/defender Adrian Serioux has been diagnosed with knee problems that will require surgery and at least four months of recovery.
Serioux was claimed by Toronto in the expansion draft and traded to FC Dallas for Ronnie O'Brien. He had a history of knee ailments while in England with Millwall, yet he not only came through the season with Houston, he'd trained with the Canadian national team before joining Dallas for preseason training. Obviously, somebody missed something.
While medical exams are a routine procedure when a player is transferred or otherwise changes clubs in most countries, they haven't always been conducted in MLS. In the first decade of league operations, players being traded while injured caused some friction between clubs.
And Toronto learned his week that No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick Maurice Edu has a fractured pelvis and will be out a month or so. Not a good start to a very talented young man's pro career.