TORONTO - With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror and the Kessel vs. Wilson noise down to a dull roar, thereís no better time to ramp up the Toronto FC talk.
Toronto FC will be back on home soil in less than a week. a place where we, the over-analyzing masses, can make our own assessments firsthand. But until that time, we check back in with our man with the hands in Turkey, wielding the goalie gloves and a pen, Toronto FC goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Frei continues to act as the eyes and ears of Sun Media from training camp, keeping supporters in the loop, from his and the playersí perspective. Todayís filing comes a couple days late but the message remains consistent: Change continues to be the dominant theme and the response to the new directive has been overwhelmingly positive.
Frei: Another day in Turkey comes to an end. (Sunday) we played our second training match of our pre-season. Our opponent was yet another high-caliber Serbian team, Red Star Belgrade. It was a good game that ended 1-0 in our favor thanks to a pretty nice attack that was finished calmly by one of our academy boys, Matthew Stinson.
Wheeler: Word out of Turkey boasts how impressed the coaching staff has been by the Academy players in camp. Stinson is an 18-year-old Canadian U-20 midfielder whoís continuing to develop into a legitimate team prospect. Other youngsters, Doneil Henry and Oscar Cordon, are also part of the Canadian U-20 set-up. And also interestingly enough in terms of the future, six TFC Academy members were called up last week by the U-17 national team to prepare for the 2011 CONCACAF menís U-17 Championship. The development of the young players is of the utmost importance to the club, getting away from chasing mediocre American players and instead cultivating talent that meshes with the culture at the club. This was Jurgen Klinsmannís loudest message sent to TFC in his recommendations. And the good news to the new coaching staff is future serviceable players may already be in their stable.
Frei: Practices over the past couple of days have been focused on passing and collective defending/attacking, so it was nice to get another chance to apply our new tactic and playing-style against a good opponent. Our coaches keep on reminding us not to be afraid. Get out of our comfort zone, make mistakes so we can learn from them and get that experience.
Wheeler: It should be noted TFC played close to a full-strength Red Star Belgrade side Sunday. Red Star have been training in Turkey as well, readying for their return from winter break. Right to script, TFC head coach Aron Winter fielded a completely different starting 11 in the first half to the second 45. Toronto FC also won the game without the services of Dwayne DeRosario, who was away in Greece on international duty, and Frei himself was a passive observer. This pre-season is all about Winter figuring out what he has and what he needs going forward. Essentially, all players in camp are on trial, contract or no contract. So itís not surprising to hear some team members playing a bit uptight, or passive. The intensity is said to be there and mistakes will be made, but itís Winter and his staff pushing players to play with confidence and attacking purpose that separates this camp from last yearís negative soccer.
Frei: Pre-season is still young, but the working environment that has been set around us has already allowed us to flourish and, as a team, come closer to how Aron wants us to play. There are positives, as well as negatives to take from this game, but the experience alone that we gained from playing another good European side will serve us well.
Wheeler: Outside midfielder Bas Ent and forward Santiago Gonzalez have left camp and will not be with TFC for their last match. Meanwhile, Dutch left-back Kevin Westmaas has joined TFC for the duration. Expect even more changes and new players to join the team for the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic, that gets underway Feb. 24 against the Houston Dynamo from Orlando, Fla. It may be a revolving door at present, but itís a virtual must for a team trying to establish an identity while finding players that fit the mold.
Frei: With only one training-match remaining in Turkey (vs. Dynamo Zagreb on Thursday), we are all determined to play another decent game and improve as a team. In the meantime, intense practice sessions will ensure that we continue to advance our fitness, skill, and tactical awareness. With our goals in mind, players enjoyed (Sundayís) win for a couple of hours before focusing on our next task. I should probably do the same and catch some sleep to make sure I am rested for tomorrowís double session.
My last update will follow our final game.
Goodnight and best wishes,