TFC deals midfield for striker

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:27 PM ET

Charleston, S.C. — On a day an old face was supposed to return to the Reds, it was another prominent player packing his bags and leaving.

This time, it was the team’s decision.

Defender Adrian Cann, who the club announced was returning to Toronto FC after an ill-fated week-long hold out, wasn’t in attendance at Friday afternoon’s training session. Travel from Toronto to Charleston is easier said than done, with no direct flights to the historic South Carolina destination. Apology need wait another day.

Midfielder Nick Labrocca wasn’t at training either. Labrocca was already leaving Charleston, as Toronto FC traded the midfielder to Chivas USA for striker Alan Gordon earlier in the day.

In Gordon, TFC head coach Aron Winter gets the big targetman he desired. Earlier this week, Winter made it known the team lacked a true centre-forward. At 6-foot-3, Gordon is just that. But how effective he will be is to be determined. Gordon, 29, only scored 16 goals in 99 games with the Los Angeles Galaxy, before moving to Chivas, where he found the net just once in nine appearances.

The trade caught everyone in Charleston by surprise. Labrocca, 26, participated in training Thursday after a standout performance against the Charleston Battery in the Carolina Challenge Cup tournament Wednesday night. Labrocca looked to be finding his comfort zone sitting in front of the back four in a deep midfield position in Winter’s 4-3-3 formation.

Labrocca started 24 games last season and was a team favourite for his commitment and hard work. Former Director of Soccer Mo Johnston would often praise Labrocca for his consistent, honest effort. Johnston brought Labrocca to Toronto from Colorado last off-season in exchange for defender Marvel Wynne. And while Labrocca missed the playoffs with TFC, Wynne went on to play an integral role in the Rapids championship campaign.

According to Winter, stiff competition for midfield places made Labrocca an expendable commodity; especially with Julian de Guzman’s return just around the corner. Toronto FC’s designated player finished another solid complete session Friday, and is looking better on the field by the day.

“In the midfield we have a lot players, and at this moment some of them are injured but next week all of them will be fit,” said Winter.

The competition for places in the centre of the park has become even more congested with the emergence of Academy player Oscar Cordon.

Winter wouldn’t say Oscar Cordon’s solid play contributed to trading Labrocca. But Winter continued to sing the praise of the 18-year old.

“I want to invest in the future with the younger (players) and Oscar has been doing well. He has good technique, but Nick is a good player as well.”

Oscar Cordon is the most polished player of the Academy bunch. The former Ontario Provincial product played two games with Toronto FC last season, but has been getting more of a look this pre-season. Oscar Cordon played the full 90 minutes last week against the Chicago Fire and played 65 minutes midweek against the Charleston Battery. Winter raved about Cordon’s performance post-game Wednesday, and admitted he only took the player out of the game to give him a rest after taking physical abuse throughout the match

“I’m being brought along slowly because of my age. I just can’t be thrown out there. It takes time to mature,” said Oscar Cordon. “It’s all going really well. Most importantly, I have the coach’s confidence and learning more and more every day.”

While the rest of Toronto FC’s Academy and rookie contingent trained as a second unit Thursday, Oscar Cordon continued with the first team.

While Winter speaks highly of other Academy players such as Kevan Aleman, it’s in a different tone he speaks of Oscar Cordon. The perception is he’s ready. Oscar Cordon will have to be used carefully; both player and team acknowledge that. But his understanding of the game and grasp of the team philosophy should keep him in competition for playing time.

“All us (Academy) players speak and we’re all happy. The coaches understand us, that’s the main thing, and they are giving us opportunities and we’re thankful.”

It’s never easy for young players to stake their claim for roster spots. Doneil Henry, Toronto FC’s first Academy player to sign a professional contract, isn’t even with the team in Charleston. Sun Media learned Winter was not happy with Henry’s performance while the team was in Turkey. So Henry was left behind in Toronto.

Also Friday, rookie defender Demitrius Omphroy left practice early after rolling his ankle. The 2011 second-round draft choice was able to limp off the field with assistance. His status is unknown.


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