TORONTO - For the past two seasons, Stefan Frei has emerged as one of Major League Soccer’s top goalkeepers. Toronto FC’s starting ’keeper has been a reliable last line of defence and a shining light at the club.
For the next two weeks, Frei is adding another skill-set to his repertoire. The man with the safe hands will be the eyes and ears for TFC supporters. Frei has generously offered his time and services, writing home and contributing to this space to keep you up-to-date with what’s happening at training camp in Turkey.
Toronto FC staff and players touched down in Antalya, Turkey over the weekend and will call the southwestern Turkish locale homebase for the next two weeks.
Frei will break down TFC’s three exhibition games, in addition to letting you know what else the team is up to. Change is the key word at the club, and Frei will do his best to keep you in the loop as to what is happening with the players and new coaching staff.
From there, we’ll play a little “he said, he said,” as yours truly will chime in, providing some context for Frei’s writing.
So let’s get this started, with Frei’s initial impressions after a long journey and the start of camp.
* Frei: The first thing I have to say is that although our travel to Turkey, instead of Bradenton (Florida), was obviously a bit longer, Turkish Airlines took care of us and made it a quite comfortable trip. Spirits were high and I think everybody was just ready to finally get back on the pitch and play some football. We had to be patient for one more day before we could strap on the boots as we arrived a bit later in the day and our coach, Aron Winter, decided to get the medicals of the trialists finished first, so that we could practice on the 29th all together.
* Wheeler: Toronto FC released their list of trialists over the weekend. It includes three Canadians (Eddy Sidra, defender; Gianluca Zavarise, midfielder; David Monsalve, goalkeeper), three Dutch (Bas Ent, midfielder; Javier Martina, forward; Nick Soolsma, forward), one Uruguayan (Santiago Gonzalez Areco, forward), and one Ghanaian (King Osei Gyan, midfielder). Three drafted rookies and four Academy members are also in camp. This is just the first bunch of what should be a growing list of players coming through the doors at the club, trying to impress.
* Frei: In the meantime, we had the chance to check-in to our hotel, which is quite a nice resort, and have a nice buffet dinner. We are not the only football team staying here. There are numerous other teams, from Austria as well as other countries, which have come down here to use these nice facilities and get ready for their season.
* Wheeler: Antalya is a popular tourist destination, located on the Mediterranean Sea. It’s also the home of former Turkish national goalkeeper, Rustu Recber. This time of year the weather ranges from an average low just above freezing to the high teens. January and February is also the rainy season, so the fields will be particularly lush, and nice and heavy on the legs.
TFC is staying at the five-star Calista Luxury Resort, boasting two, FIFA standard sized fields and professional infrastructure. The suitable climate and proper fields makes Calista an attractive destination for pre-season training. European sides CSKA Moscow and Red Star Belgrade have hosted camps at the resort over the last year.
* Frei: As soon as we finally on the pitch, we were quickly reminded of how gruelling pre-season can be. Double days are the norm and it will take a while for our bodies to get in top shape, I guess that’s what pre-season is all about. You know how everybody loves fitness tests and conditioning sessions.
* Wheeler: Proper fitness will be a major focus of Winter’s. TFC has had issues with fitness in the past, partly because of improper training facilities. European clubs, tend to have more thorough pre-season fitness regimens, including a significant amount more work with the ball. Winter has brought a young team to Turkey, much alike the players he has typically worked with in the past at Ajax.
* Frei: It’s been good, though, everybody is getting their touch back and people are getting used to their new teammates. We all know that our first game is coming up soon and we definitely want to be ready for it. That’s all there is as of now, my muscles are sore and my roommate Milos (Kocic) reminds me that another double day awaits us tomorrow. With that in mind I should go to bed and get some rest. A second update will follow soon.
* Wheeler: Toronto FC’s first exhibition game is on Wednesday against Serbian side, Partizan Belgrade (10AM ET). The 2009-10 Serbian League Champions are currently training in Antalya as well, preparing to return from their winter break. Frei will provide a game re-cap after the match.