Toronto FC added a teacher to its Major League Soccer roster yesterday when it signed Welsh international midfielder Carl Robinson to a multi-year contract.
Robinson, 30, may have thought he was joining the new pro soccer outfit because of his talents as a veteran player in England, but FC coach Mo Johnston said he also wants Robinson to act as tutor to the team's No. 1 draft pick, Maurice Edu.
Either way, the team comes out ahead. Robinson brings an important ingredient -- credibility -- to a first-year club that must win over fans as well as opponents.
Robinson is no fringe player -- he started 34 of 35 games this season for Norwich City, which plays in the League Championship, one level below the Premiership -- so there was genuine surprise that he would leave what many would consider a good career to start over with an unproven team in the MLS.
"Actually I started thinking of playing in (North) America three years ago when Mo was with New York," Robinson said. "But at that time a deal couldn't get done."
So when Robinson heard that Johnston had been hired by Toronto, he contacted him again.
"I came over to meet with (Johnston) and knew straight away that I wanted to play in Toronto," Robinson said. "I came back a second time and signed a contract."
TO WALES, THEN FLORIDA
While the rest of the team begins on-field pre-season training indoors at the Ontario Soccer Centre in Vaughan, Robinson is headed back to Wales to play in an international match, then plans to take a few weeks off before joining his new teammates when the club moves its training camp to Florida.
One player who won't be in Vaughan is midfielder Rod Dyachenko, who was traded to D.C. United in exchange for United's first-round MLS Superdraft pick in 2008. Dyachenko originally was acquired from D.C. United in the expansion draft.
Johnston said that Robinson will be a key piece in the puzzle that eventually will be the starting Toronto lineup -- especially in relation to 20-year-old Edu.
"(Robinson) is going to help young Maurice," Johnston said. "That was a vital part of us bringing him to Toronto."
Johnston said that in his discussions with Robinson he talked about how important his role as teacher for Edu would be.
"I already spoke to him," he said. "He knows we want him to help Maurice get better."
Johnston, however, also insisted that Robinson's skills as a player in a top European league will add depth to the rookie-laden side.
"He has played at soccer's highest level," Johnston said of Robinson's experience.
Johnston said that selling Robinson on playing in Toronto proved much easier that he anticipated.
"A big plus for us was the city itself," the coach said. "When he saw that Toronto had professional basketball, hockey and baseball as well as soccer that further convinced him it was a good place to play.
"We're just thrilled to have him."