Carver to TFC: Stay in the game

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

Toronto FC coach John Carver made himself clear from the end of last season up to the eve of tonight's 2009 opener in Kansas City:

To make the playoffs for the first time, the Reds must score more on the road, win more on the road, while making sure to finish with 11 men on the road.

Carver loves a team that plays with an edge, but the second-year skip bristled when TFC finished two of three games in the exhibition Carolina Challenge Cup a man short because of ejections.

"It's about individual discipline," Carver said. "If it happens again ... I said to them, if you earn a yellow card and somebody's clean through, I'd rather the guy actually go and score rather than you bring him down, get sent off and be down to 10 men. If you have 11 men on the pitch, you still have a chance of winning.

"I'm trying to put that way of thinking into their heads so hopefully, we won't have a problem with discipline."

Adrian Serioux and Kevin Harmse were the FC players lost during the exhibition friendlies and Serioux's shoulder injury in a 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake (TFC's only setback) likely will keep him out tonight in K.C.

But in general, the starting lineup for Year 3 of TFC is far more stable than the cast of unknowns from 2007 and 2008.

Manager Mo Johnston's near-ceaseless tinkering has now yielded two Toronto-area starters in the signings of Dwayne De Rosario and Serioux, plus Pablo Vitti of Argentina. Gambians Emmanuel Gomez and Amadou Sanyang bring some flash and Johnston used one of his three first-round draft picks on Swiss goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who has put the heat on veteran Canuck Greg Sutton.

The fans will be happy at the changes and De Rosario is sure to be their idol when 20,000 flock back to BMO Field, but that doesn't guarantee success on the road.

"I will change the team on the road from time to time, in order to win," Carver said. "If not, I'll have to go back to kamikaze football."

Team defence is an issue that also aggravated Carver to no end last year, particularly allowing late goals.

"People talk about fitness, about lack of concentration, (lack of) character, but we have to do something," Carver said. "I sat down with the staff and we looked at all the goals we conceded last year, especially the ones late. There weren't many when we actually said: 'What a super goal.' We'd given them the goals.

"At the end of the day, we have stronger characters in the dressing room now, more leaders, more big personalties."

Carver says he gave up some offers to return home to England to work, because he believes this edition of TFC will turn the corner.

"We can see what we've built, what we're trying to build and where we're trying to go," Carver said.

De Rosario was anxious to get the ball rolling tonight.

"Playing K.C. away from home will be a great place to get a result," he said.

"It (chemistry) is definitely beginning to come. We work hard off the field, but we know how to switch it on, which is just as important. Off the field, we have a good laugh, on the field it's strictly business. It's important to have that balance, especially when things aren't going your way.

"Starting off on the right foot in K.C. will help our confidence and maybe we can keep it going after that."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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