April 6, 2012
GTA's James ready to build on Olympic experience
By Kurtis Larson, QMI Agency
MONTREAL - Passed over by his hometown club during the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, Mississauga’s Evan James is letting his performance for the Canadian under-23 national team do the talking.
“I’m not too interested in showing (TFC) that they made a mistake,” said James, when asked if he felt disrespected when Toronto elected not to select him in January’s draft. “(Toronto) went the direction they went and I ended up in (Montreal) … I want to show everyone I can play. It doesn’t matter what team.”
The Reds were said to be interested in James — one of a handful of Canadians in this year’s draft — heading into the MLS Combine, but chose not to select the 22-year-old winger with either of their two SuperDraft selections.
After the Impact took the UNC Charlotte product with the first pick in the MLS supplemental draft, James appeared for Canada at the recently completed CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
“It definitely gave me that confidence that I can get into some games and help my team get some wins,” he said of his standout showing in the competition – something Montreal head coach Jesse Marsch addressed upon his return to training last week.
“(Marsch) said I played really well,” James said. “It’s a process every day. Hopefully I can get minutes on the field.”
The GTA native is still searching for his first MLS appearance.
THE BIG O-NO
With the expansion of the 20,341-seat Stade Saputo not scheduled to be completed until June, the Impact’s cavernous stand-in home — Montreal’s Olympic Stadium — is a venue the home side’s own players can’t wait to get away from.
“It’s s---,” said Montreal’s Andrew Wenger, Major League Soccer’s first-overall draft pick in 2012.”
Those comments were echoed by TFC staff and players who held a brief training session Friday afternoon to familiarize themselves with an artificial surface that looks to have been resurrected from the days of the Montreal Expos.
“We played on a similar surface against L.A. at the Rogers Centre so we’ll be ready and prepared,” Terry Dunfield said. “It’s the same for both teams.”
Something between artificial grass and Astro turf, the stadium’s plastic is uneven and spongy, causing balls to take surprise hops if players aren’t aware.
Toronto focused on moving the ball along the foreign surface Friday, in preparation for yet another match at a difficult venue.
One club official went as far to say the field conditions are worse than when the club played at Guatemala’s Real Esteli in the Champions League preliminaries.
“We have to play here regardless,” Doneil Henry said. “We’re not going to make a fuss. We’re just trying to get used to the pitch and go out tomorrow and give it our all.”
TFC SUPPORTERS MAKING THE TREK
Although it crammed close to 60,000 into the 35-year-old Olympic Stadium for its home opener against the Chicago Fire last month, club officials are expecting close to 30,000 Saturday afternoon.
Of the tickets that were distributed ahead of this week, it’s estimated that more than 1,000 were bought up by travelling Toronto supporters and members of TFC’s supporters’ groups.
“I’m not surprised because we’ve always had great fans,” Ty Harden said. “They’ve travelled in the past to Columbus and New England … It’s awesome and makes us feel great.”
Looking to build on the ever-expanding rivalry between the Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers in the Pacific Northwest, the league’s decision to move to an unbalanced schedule will see the Reds face their derby rivals no less than five times in 2012 – three within the league and twice in the Canadian Cup.
“I can’t wait,” Dunfield said. “I’ve played at (Stade Saputo) a couple of times and the atmosphere was great when I was with Vancouver and also Canada. I’m looking forward to the match.”
Should both clubs make the playoffs, Toronto and Montreal could meet a total of seven times before December, once more than the Leafs and Canadiens in the NHL’s regular season.
WENGER BARKS BACK AT RONGEN REMARKS
When Thomas Rongen signed on as TFC’s latest academy director in January, he took aim at the NCAA and one of its coveted products.
“Andrew Wenger went (three) years to Duke,” Rongen said of Montreal’s first-overall draft choice. “No disrespect ... but Wenger was as good or even a little better (going) into college. He has matured maybe mentally ... but technically and tactically, I don’t think he has gotten better.”
Answering claims Friday that his decision to play in college stymied his progression as a player, Wenger barked back at his one-time U.S. under-20 coach.
“I never had an opportunity to join MLS before I went to Duke,” Wenger said. “I think I grew up a lot as a person (in university) … we’ve seen some other guys join the league at 18-years-old and it’s tough at that point.”
As for why Rongen would take a shot at him?
“I certainly think (Rongen) had a point to make because (TFC) is setting up and academy system,” he said. “Obviously it was an easy remark to make.
“I enjoyed my time with him, but I really don’t know.”
ALL-TIME MEETINGS BETWEEN THE CLUBS
Since the clubs began competing in the Canadian Championship in 2008, TFC has owned the series.
“It’s definitely a rivalry and I think when the fans feel that it’s different, it’s a different atmosphere,” Harden said. “It’s that much louder, that much more intense and we feel that on the field as well.”
The Reds carry a 5-0-1 record into Saturday afternoon, including three straight wins in Quebec.
The clubs last met in Montreal in 2010 with TFC’s Dwayne De Rosario scoring the game’s only goal 15 minutes from time.