[MLS] The first stage of New Era Redux is underway for Toronto FC, which travels Thursday to Turkey for its first training camp under Aron
Winter, who since New Year’s Day has been to the MLS Player Combine and picked eight players in the SuperDraft and Supplementary Draft.
In his first stint as a head coach, Winter has jumped into an entirely alien soccer structure than the one he knows, with precious little time to both learn the job and do it well. He also must deal with the curious case of star attacker Dwayne De Rosario, who has returned from a tumultuous visit to Glasgow Celtic that TFC claimed was not authorized.
"In a short time, you have to do a lot of things,” Winter said at a team press conference Wednesday. “Today was the first day we have met all of the players,
and they have given me a good feeling. So far, I think we have enough quality at this moment so we can start. But I did not see the players training and playing
in games, and I can get it for sure when I see them training in Turkey and playing games.”
After four years of missing the playoffs under five head coaches, the last of which – Preki –- didn’t make it through his first season, TFC has
gone mostly European with a dusting of MLS experience.
Club management entrusted the coaching search to former German international Juergen Klinsmann, who was hired as a consultant in September, and the result is an intriguing triumvirate.
Three weeks ago, TFC announced its new coaching staff: Winter as head coach and technical director, Bob De Klerk as his assistant coach, and former Revs
assistant Paul Mariner as director of player development.
Former TFC player and assistant coach Danny Dichio has been retained but discussions are ongoing regarding Nick Dasovic, an assistant coach under Preki who finished out the season as interim head coach.
Raised in the Ajax system, Winter has stated he wants TFC to play attacking soccer in a basic 4-3-3 formation. Throughout the press conference, he stressed
the need to find suitable players, and also groom younger players, to play in the style and manner he prefers.
“It’s going to be very hard, but it is our goal before we start the league; I want to be ready to start the league,” he said. “And during the league, yeah,
when you’re playing the players are going to grow and you’re going to be better. When we are in Turkey, we are going to change a lot of things, including the way we want to play.”
Winter says the team will audition six trialists while it is in Turkey, and will also take four of its academy players. On the current roster there are only 14
returnees from last year, though eight players were claimed in the SuperDraft and Supplemental Draft. The team will be based in Antalya and is scheduled to play Partizan Belgrade, Dinamo Zagreb and one other match before returning Feb. 12.
Last year, De Rosario – who finished the season with 15 of the team’s 33 goals -- triggered sharp protests when he pantomimed writing a check after scoring
against San Jose, thus dropping a very unsubtle hint regarding his non-Designated Player contract ($443,750 last year).
The club has released Mista, which it signed in midseason as a second DP, yet the very underwhelming Julian de Guzman is still on nice DP deal (about $1.7 million last year).
“That’s exactly what we’re doing today, we’re trying to work things out,” said Mariner of the De Ro Drama. “I had a very brief conversation with him yesterday,
renewed old acquaintances. Obviously I’ve worked with him in the past, he’s a lovely fellah. Aron and Bob had a private conversation with him. As I said
earlier, we’re talking to DeRo all the time. That’s as much as I want to say at the present moment.”
His trip to Celtic, which began the day after Christmas, had apparently been approved by someone at TFC yet not officially finalized for bureaucratic and insurance purposes. He went to train in the hopes of getting a loan deal but TFC decided instead to bring him back for preseason training. His first impressions
of Winter are positive.
“For him to, the first day, address and speak to every player individually and get across what he would like to see from us individually and collectively as a
unit and as a team, moving forward was a refreshing start, and one as a senior player I enjoy hearing,” said De Rosario. “To have that one-on-one dialogue with
a coach is very good, it’s something I think we’ve never really had here.”
TFC fans have also never had a playoff team and in Year 5, time is of the essence.
“This is the fifth year, and we’re building again, so I think a lot of people’s patience is getting thin, including ourselves as players, because we
want success,” says De Rosario, who has won four MLS Cups with San Jose and Houston.
“I think Mr. Winter, Paul Mariner and the coaching staff are moving forward in the right direction. They’re not coming here to see this year out and see how we
do with no goals in mind. He said the first day he wants to make the playoffs and the ultimate goal is the championship. To hear that, that’s what we all want.”