MLS Season Preview: Toronto FC


How will Toronto FC follow-up the shiniest offseason in Major League Soccer since David Beckham signed with Los Angeles?

That’s the major question ahead of the Reds as their now-star-studded roster prepares for a playoff push in 2014 with their sights higher, at within reason, than ever before.

If you missed what went down this winter — there’s a solid documentary on the web — the club managed to add arguably the United States national team’s most important player (Michael Bradley), a prolific Premier League striker (Jermain Defoe) and a former UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year (Julio Cesar).

And yes, we’ve made it this far without mentioning the return of franchise leading scorer and Canada’s most famous player, Dwayne De Rosario.



source: AP
A new era is being ushered in at TFC, Bradley is delighted to be part of it.

Players in: Bradley (signed from AS Roma), Defoe (signed from Tottenham Hotspur), Cesar (loan from QPR), De Rosario (re-entry draft), Bradley Orr (loan from Blackburn Rovers), Gilberto (signed from Internacional), Jackson (trade with FC Dallas), Justin Morrow (trade with San Jose).

Players out: Stefan Frei (rights traded to Seattle), Matias Laba (loan to Vancouver), Danny Koeverman (out of contract), Robert Earnshaw (option declined), Jonas Elmer (released), Richard Eckersley (traded to NYRB), Bobby Convey (traded to NYRB), Darel Russell (option declined), Michael Thomas (option declined), Justin Braun (out of contract)

Key player: Michael Bradley

I’d like to apologize to all the other writers on staff who had a more difficult task in choosing a key player, as TFC’s massive money man will unquestionably be the key to its success in 2014. Frankly, it would be shocking if the bulldog of a midfielder isn’t immediately a Top Five player in the league, regardless of any perceived adjustment period.

He’ll have weapons at his disposal and Bradley won’t even turn 27 until after this summer’s World Cup in Brazil (By the way, TFC is reasonably equipped to deal with his absence for the Earth’s biggest tournament).

source:  Manager: Ryan Nelsen enters his second year in charge of the Reds after a tough 7W-11D-18L campaign, and the roster turnover isn’t shocking for anyone paying attention to the way he ran his ship in 2013. There were plenty of whispers that Nelsen had to rearrange the club’s entire on-field ethos and training habits, almost like a college coach taking over and needing to “get back to basics.” This will be a year to actually judge the New Zealand legend and he certainly shouldn’t mind that the massive influx of talent will shift the expectations to his managerial skill.

OutlookBright, even with the season-ending injury to depth forward Dike. As TFC prepares to take BMO Field to the next level, their team should be there in plenty of time for the enhanced facility’s completion. In terms of team selection, the Reds have plenty of choices and the addition of Orr shores up one of their biggest holes. They’ll have Cesar and Joe Bendik battling it out for net time and Steven Caldwell anchoring the back line while Bradley orchestrates the attacking, spraying the ball to any number of options.

Keep in mind the Miami Heat corollary — it could take some time for so many stars from so many backgrounds to find their role — but by the time TFC is rolling along, a playoff spot will be certain… and CN Tower beware, because the sky is the limit.

Griezmann sets pre-World Cup deadline for transfer future

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French striker Antoine Griezmann is no stranger to seeing his name in the transfer rumor mill, but that familiarity doesn’t make it any more enjoyable for the Atletico Madrid attacker (who celebrates his 27th birthday on Wednesday).

Long-tipped for a move to either Barcelona or Manchester United, Griezmann knows one thing: He wants his future sorted before the World Cup.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“I want to travel to Russia without this concern,” he told L’Equipe. “It’s not about knowing where I’ll play, but about having the peace of mind if I’m still in one place or another.

“It may be boring, but I have told my sister that, whether I stay or not, this will have to be resolved beforehand. What bothers me the most is that everyone asks me about this issue.”

That’s both honest and reasonable, and we can imagine it’s not a blast to answer questions on your future every day. He also has a contract through 2021-22, which won’t make any transfer a simple one.

Griezmann has 23 goals and 13 assists in all competitions for Atleti this season, as La Liga’s second place side remains alive in the UEFA Europa League. He’s scored 106 goals for Atleti since arriving from Real Sociedad.

NYCFC signs second Homegrown Player in history

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Four years, two Homegrowns.

That’s the decent track record for New York City FC, which has spotted a second youngster from amongst its ranks in 15-year-old Joe Scally.

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Scally joins United States youth international James Sands as Homegrown Players from NYCFC. Here’s USMNT legend and NYCFC technical director Claudio Reyna:

“Joe has been one of the top performers in the Academy for the past few seasons and represented US Soccer at U-15 and U-17 level.”

“He has all of the attributes we look for in a right-back: he’s strong in defense and can support in attack to help create chances from wide areas.”

Sands was signed last summer, and played 23 minutes for NYCFC against Colorado in his lone senior appearance.

Allow England defender Alfie Mawson to charm you

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Swansea City’s Alfie Mawson is at England national team camp, and the young man is conducting himself in downright adorable fashion.

It seems the 24-year-old London defender cannot quite believe Gareth Southgate called his name for the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“A lot of people wouldn’t have even heard my name until this call up,” Mawson told the BBC. “You know it’s down to performing well at certain times, it’s down to doing the right things and sometimes it’s down to being a nice person.”

Mawson has played every minute for Swans this season, picking up two goals and an assist. More importantly, he’s won 3.3 aerial battles per game and 6.3 clearances.

While this won’t necessarily serve him well against the Netherlands and Italy in this week’s friendlies — they don’t put a lot of hopeful balls into aerial or clearing positions — it’s kept Mawson on the England radar for this summer’s World Cup.

Mawson is two seasons removed from playing in the Championship, and was loaned to lower league clubs like Maidenhead United and Welling United. At the time, he was going to “car boot sales with my girlfriend” which from my limited Googling seems the English equivalent of a yard sale and flea market combined.

“We are in a good position now where we don’t really have to do the car boots unless she wants a bit of excitement on a Sunday morning.”

Pretty good position, yeah.

FIFA urges Russia to hasten work on delayed World Cup arena

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SAMARA, Russia (AP) FIFA has urged Russia to speed up World Cup preparations at a stadium which needs “a huge amount of work” to be ready on time.

With less than three months to go until the World Cup, the 45,000-seat Samara Arena is the only one of 12 stadiums which doesn’t yet have a pitch installed.

The stadium in the Volga River city of Samara was already badly delayed due to a complex roof design, but now cold weather in the Russian spring is causing further problems. The pitch can’t be installed until the weather warms up.

“Obviously we would expect further progress than this,” FIFA’s chief competitions official Colin Smith said on a visit to the arena Wednesday. “We don’t yet have a pitch, and obviously we need to wait for some warmer weather conditions in order to get this pitch installed.”

As of Tuesday, instead of a field, there was an area covered with tarpaulins and snow. Temperatures are forecast to stay slightly below freezing for the rest of the week.

“There’s a huge amount of work still to be done,” Smith added. “From the information we’ve received there’s nothing stopping all these areas being completed on time. It just requires commitment and more manpower to get it done on time, and when we talk about on time, we’re talking about the commissioning date of the end of April.”

If that date passes, it could restrict FIFA’s ability to test the stadium with Russian league games and install World Cup equipment. Outside the arena, deep snowdrifts cover much of an area that is due to be landscaped for the tournament and will host some facilities for fans.

Alexander Fetisov, deputy governor of the Samara region, said the stadium will be ready.

“I’d like to avoid unnecessary dramatization of the situation,” he said. “Everything is being done so that the stadium is commissioned in the time required.”

Samara isn’t the only World Cup field which has drawn attention in recent weeks. The stadium in Kazan has been widely criticized by Russian fans after a brown, muddy surface was used for league games after the winter break.

Smith said FIFA was offering Russia help to get its fields ready, adding, “We’re doing everything possible and we’re convinced that we’re going to have a very, very high standard of pitches at this tournament.”