TFC eyes happier days ahead

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:20 PM ET

MLS pre-season training camps are nothing new to Dwayne De Rosario.

As a 10-year Major League Soccer veteran and a four-time MLS Cup Champion, he also knows that how they are conducted varies depending on the head coach.

He has come to learn the ingredients required for success, and in more recent years has learned recipe for failure.

De Rosario is entering year three with Toronto with a third different face calling the shots.

And it just so happens, what’s cooking at this year’s pre-season camp is to his liking.

In fact, the feedback across the board has been overwhelmingly positive under the direction of head coach Aron Winter and first assistant Bob de Klerk.

How happy is De Rosario? The 32-year old says he’s the happiest he’s been at Toronto FC since the day he signed with the club.

Bold, but not surprising words from the team captain. And you can thank the new staff and player friendly directive for creating a positive soccer environment.

Unlike other years, training consists of more work with the ball with a clear focus on the technical side of the game. Players are being encouraged to play and challenged to do better.

Past pre-season training camps, particularly last year, resembled glorified boot-camps, with running, running and more running.

Fitness training gets tiresome. It’s neither player friendly, or conducive to breeding long-term success.

“In July and August, when the best teams hit their stride, we’ve always seemed to take a step back — it’s like we don’t have enough in the tank,” said De Rosario. “And July and August is the most important time of the year.”

De Rosario can extend those important months into September, where TFC regularly reaches level of mediocrity.

Despite massive player change and changing coaching staffs, Toronto surprisingly has managed to do relatively well in the early months. But success as such is short-lived without system and technical superiority preached from the get-go.

This year, the stale and narrow-minded fitness-first approach has gone out the window. Conversation with Winter and De Rosario Thursday instead revolved around movement, space and options.

The dialogue: all positive, echoing goalkeeper Stefan Frei’s sentiments in his correspondence from Turkey.

This week’s glimpse at training camp showed a much different vibe and a much different look. Instead of seeing players mindlessly running without a ball at their feet, the coaching staff focused on quality of passing with proper movement off the ball.

It’s all rather elementary in practice, but a far reach from dire running drills.

“North American players are eager, they are good students who want to learn and want to get better technically,” said De Rosario. “A guy like Aron brings out the best.”

On the surface, Winter is and reserved. But it’s a quiet confidence he exudes.

De Klerk, his right-hand man, is more the drill sergeant in camp, holding players accountable and demanding more.

De Klerk runs the drills; Winter is the observer, interjecting where need be.

As for where they go from here, Winter admits the team has ample work to do before their MLS season opener a month from now. The building process will not end with the start of the season; the process will be fluid.

From TFC’s two weeks of training and games in Turkey, Winter is confident “we have 11 (players), to start with.”

That still leaves roster spots 12 to 23 to deal with. Those numbers are all-important, considering the Canadian International contingent, at the very least, will miss the duration of the June while competing in the Gold Cup.

Although Winter says he’ll have a smaller squad to work with in Orlando, Fla., as TFC moves camp for the Walt Disney Pro Soccer Classic Monday, trialists from South and Central America will join the team.

The group will most likely also include Dutch trio Javier Martina, Nick Soolsma and Elbekay Bouchiba – although TFC officials maintain no signings have been made official as of yet.

De Rosario is encouraged by the three Dutch players, saying they are technically sound.

But as the case with any player making the move across the Atlantic, De Rosario says “it will be interesting to see how they adjust to MLS.”

Still on the player acquisition front, Winter won’t rule out bringing in a second Designated Player either. But any player Winter brings in has to want to come to Toronto, and not just collect a pay cheque.


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