TFC goes on offensive

BILL LANKHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

John Carver returned from Toronto FC's training camp in Florida with blistered lips, a burned nose and a reddened forehead.

Nice and toasty. Which pretty much also describes the general attitude surrounding this team as it opened training yesterday at BMO Field for its third Major League Soccer season-opener March 21.

In four exhibitions, the team won twice. Last year's late acquisition, Chad Barrett, is looking fit and in a 75-minute outing in the scorching Florida sun had no recurrence of the cramping muscles that plagued him last season. Amado Guevara will now ride shot-gun with newly-acquired Pablo Vitti on a team that suddenly looks like it has an offence that will scare more than just its own fans.

"We've got more attacking-minded players," said Barrett, of a team that scored 34 goals, fewer than every team but San Jose. "I think the coaches have a little problem because we have so many players that can now play on the attacking side.

"If they want to play out of the general 4-4-2 that we were playng out of last year it's going to be tough to get all the talent on the field at the same time."

The team has added home- grown star Dwayne de Rosario giving Carver the offensive linchpin of a plan he saw coming together at the end of last season with victories against Chicago and New York.

"I've always wanted to put a team out that plays attacking football but sometimes if you haven't got the right players on the pitch it becomes very difficult," said Carver. "Certainly toward the end of the season we saw glimpses of what to expect. It showed that we do play some good football, and attacking football. The addition of Dwayne and Pablo is going to force us into playing more (of that type) of football."

Carver has a roster reduced from 28 to 22 but says "we're looking at more quality than quantity. Even the younger guys coming into the club have to be of higher standard."

Barrett went on a fitness program that has added muscle and Carver believes he'll be ready to "be a 90-minute player." With nine goals last season, Barrett's goal is to win a playoff spot and become the first Reds player ever to reach double figures in a season.

Guevara is a proven international scorer and Carver believes Vitti can develop into one in Toronto. "He's ready to springboard his career. He has huge potential," said Carver.

Vitti, 23, started his career at his home side Rosario Central. A consistent goal scorer, he became one of the most promising youngsters in the Argentine First Division. But he hasn't found the back of the net in two years. Last year with Ukrainian Premier League club Chornomorets Odessa was a disaster. "He popped over to Russia and nobody spoke to him for weeks. I think he found that difficult," Carver said. "One thing we did is as soon as he came through the door we made him feel welcome. He's embraced that and that's why I think we'll get the most out of him."

Against the Red Bulls in Florida, Vitti scored in his first game.

"He's a good finisher. His movement is second to none. He looks to get in behind people. He can deal with the ball in his feet. He's technically very comfortable. His all-around game is quite good," Carver said.

Vitti's English? He does interviews through an interpreter. Fortunately, on the field the language of soccer is universal.

"In the dressing room we speak English. Amado has come a long way from last year and Pablo's learning. And if I hear them talking Spanish," said Carver, chuckling, "I'll fine them."

Let's just say that, with Toronto FC, both talking the walk and walking the talk remain a work in progress.


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