No shortage of Canadians on roster

DEAN McNULTY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

The first order of business for the brass at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. once it was awarded a Major League Soccer franchise was to make sure the team could come up with a core of Canadian players good enough to compete at that level.

While MLS rules require that of the 28 players on team rosters, 11 must be either U.S. citizens or holders of green cards, Toronto was granted special dispensation in that it must have seven Canadians on its roster when the season starts on Saturday.

The reason, according to MLSEL chief operating officer Tom Anselmi, is simple: While the mandate for U.S. teams is to grow the game in that country, Toronto FC's mandate is to grow it in Canada.

"We want Toronto FC to begin making a difference in the community before we play our first game," he said. "Growing and developing soccer is a high priority for our team."

FC coach Mo Johnston started scouring the country for quality players.

Unfortunately, the very best Canadian players -- like Atiba Hutchinson and Jonathan de Guzman -- both play abroad for salaries that are a galaxy away from what Toronto FC could afford.

But that doesn't mean Johnston would have to settle for scraps.

Among his first signings were midfielder Jim Brennan of Markham, defenders Adam Braz of St. Laurent, Que., North York's Chris Pozniak and Marco Reda of Woodbridge.

Next came Hamilton's Greg Sutton, a 6-foot-6 goalkeeper, who last season was a first-team all-star for the Montreal Impact in the United Soccer League.

With this solid core of veterans -- all have played at the international level -- Johnston began to recruit youngsters from Canada's under 20 team as well as kids who had been lured to U.S. colleges with soccer scholarships.

He came out of that exercise with Tyler Hemming, of London, Ont., Richard Asante, of North York, Tomer Chenciunski, of Woodbridge, A.J. Gray of Brampton and Andrea Lombardo of Toronto.

"We are a Canadian team and want a Canadian identity," Johnston said. "The way to get that is to sign quality Canadian kids and I think we have done that."


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