Lombardo buying into team-first approach

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

Andrea Lombardo is on the Toronto FC player roster, he wears the team colours, he practises on the same field as Amado Guevara and shares the same buffet as Rohan Ricketts.

He is a member of Toronto's Major League Soccer team in every way. Except one. He doesn't play - much. And, when he does it's in an empty stadium in front of tens of people who are mostly team management or waste management consultants.

Lombardo is one of Toronto's backups. Six games into the season, he has played all of 26 minutes. And, when the team has won three in a row and tagged on an impressive 1-1 tie last night against Red Bull New York it is difficult to imagine that changing soon. So, this morning he will be playing with Toronto's reserves.

"You always want to play. But we've got a lot of quality players this year. Hopefully I'll get an opportunity and be able to make the most of it," Lombardo said last night just before the starting 11 hit the field.

Make the most of it like Marco Velez did. The Toronto defender sent a header into the net in the 22nd minute.

"I'm pretty happy. How can you not be with 20,000 people yelling," Velez said after his first MLS goal. It was sweet vindication after being much criticized. "I don't think about what people say ... sometimes it's hard but I believe in myself."

Just as this team, which won just six times last year, is beginning to believe in itself. Just as Lombardo believes in himself. It is all part of fledgling coach John Carver's team-first approach. The Reds have bought into his Group Hug theorum.

"I'm 20 I look at our team and there are guys 30-32 years old. You have to bide your time," Lombardo said. "But it is very frustrating not to play, don't get me wrong. It's very frustrating watching from the press box. Especially if things are going well you want to be out there. At the same time, only 11 can play and J.C. makes the choice."

Only once has that choice included Lombardo but he is far from the only player who has had to settle into a role not of their first choosing. In the season opener, Carver sat out fan favourite Danny Dichio and national team goaltender Greg Sutton. While Carver is even-tempered he is also intense and leaves no doubt who is in charge. Jeff Cunningham, who has scored 96 career MLS goals has started just two games. If there is bitterness he is keeping it to himself saying this week that he's content to come off the bench as long as the team is winning.

"(Carver) demands us to work hard. At the same time he likes to have fun," Lombardo said. "He's not really meant to be your friend as the coach but at the same time he has got a good relationship with the players. You can always talk to him. The saying is: tough but fair."

Andrew Boyens was a first-round draft pick who started 21 games last season. He was released this spring by Carver.

"I'm going to play the side that I think is the best side," Carver said this week. "Even for the games later in the season I'm not going to mix the side up when we play in the the (Canadian Championship) games against Montreal and Vancouver. I won't tinker with it."

Lombardo played 17 games last season. But this is a more difficult lineup to crack.

"I think I still have a future here," Lombardo said. "I hope the coaches see it the same way. I love playing here because its my home city. Just because I'm not in the first few games doesn't mean I won't play -- the season is long."

So, as Velez celebrated his goal it was Mob City around the Toronto bench.

"I think he broke my jaw," said Carver, of the joyful Velez' celebration. Everyone up and jumping -- even those dressed in civvies.

"It's not about the individual," Carver said. "It's my job to make sure my management skills are good enough to keep everyone happy. To make them feel a part of it."


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