Greek in goal

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

Never mind this 'bend it like Beckham' talk, how about 'stop it like Stamatopoulos'?

Greek-born and Markham raised, Kenny Stamatopoulos will be the second most noted newcomer at BMO Field tomorrow night when he goes in net for Toronto FC in what could be David Beckham's Canadian debut in Major League Soccer.

Timing is everything and the two-month process to get Stamatopoulos, who has made four appearances for Canada -- here on loan from the remote Tromso club in Norway -- was concluded yesterday, just as the Beckham circus came to town.

TEASED REPORTERS

"When I flew back (Thursday), it wasn't: 'Welcome home', but: 'Where are the tickets?" Stamatopoulos joked of family and friends hoping to see Beckham.

"I'm really excited to be playing pro at home. I was a Beckham fan growing up and he's a soccer icon."

Toronto coach Mo Johnston teased reporters about Beckham being in hiding at BMO yesterday and watching TFC's practice from a secret location.

But until Beckham says otherwise at today's special press conference, he's not expected to move far from the Los Angeles Galaxy bench on his sore left ankle.

Johnston, whose own team has been ravaged by injuries, still polished up a game plan for Beckham.

"Close him down, limit his space, cut down on silly fouls that could lead to yellow cards," Johnston said. "Landon Donovan is good as their late man going to the box (where Beckham's set-up skill is most effective)."

TFC players have been joking about giving Beckham a rough reception on the field.

And while most expect the kid glove treatment if the MLS' new ambassador is able to put aside his ankle injury and make an appearance, Johnston reminded his players the game, the home crowd and the chance to get out of the conference basement should not be sacrificed for Beckham's feelings.

Among those TFC starters missing tomorrow's match are goalkeeper Greg Sutton (concussion), defenders Andrew Boyens (concussion) and Marvell Wynne (hamstring), midfielder Ronnie O'Brien (knee) and forwards Danny Dichio (back, hip flexor) and Jeff Cunningham (abductor).

"We've got seven starters on the treatment table," Johnston said, adding in jest that he and his assistant coaches were going into action tomorrow.

Sutton's injury, suffered during practice with Team Canada at the spring Copa America tournament, is the most worrisome.

"He still has a ringing in his ears and a headache, so it's not a lot of fun for him right now," Johnston said.

Three 'keepers went through the wash for TFC, all the while Johnston working behind the scenes to secure the 27-year-old Stamatopoulos as Sutton's full-time replacement.

"He looked okay (yesterday), but it's tough when a new back four is in front of you," Johnston said.

FIRST BIRTHDAY

The 6-foot Stamatopoulos came to Canada before his first birthday, playing for Scarborough Azzurri and recruited as a 16-year-old by the University of Chicago.

He played for teams in Greece, Sweden and Norway, most recently, Tromso, a town of 50,000 located inside the Arctic Circle.

"I watched the Northern Lights a lot," Stamatopoulos said of the local pastime.

He lost his place in goal this year because of an injury, but remains Tromso property until December of 2008.

"We'll see what happens, there could be a buyout," Johnston said.


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