TORONTO - Optimism abounded as Toronto FC unveiled its nearly completed training facility at Downsview Park on Tuesday morning.
Built on 14 acres of land at a cost of $21 million, the Kia Training Ground will have three full-size grass fields, four artificial ones (two able to be used year-round) and a 40,000 square foot field house “with every amenity needed to service our five academy teams,” according to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. executive VP of venues and entertainment Bob Hunter.
“Having a state-of-the-art facility in Canada will ensure to the next great crop of young Canadian talent that they will not have to leave this country in their teens to hone their skills,” Hunter said.
Since its establishment in 2008, nine members of Toronto FC’s Academy have graduated to Major League Soccer first teams already — seven with TFC, including regular starting defenders Doneil Henry and Ashtone Morgan — and the numbers are expected to rise significantly going forward.
“(MLS) is changing, it’s becoming much more of a develop-your-own-players kind of league instead of an NCAA-draft kind of league, so we’ve got to have the right facilities,” MLSE chief operating officer Tom Anselmi said.
“Our ownership has made a big commitment. I know Aron (Winter, TFC’s head coach) and the guys are champing at the bit to come in here and have a home they can go to every day.”
Ah yes. Finally, TFC has a home. No more searching out facilities to rent for training, scattering all over the place, which Winter said might have made things more difficult on game days.
“Now we have everything at once. We want to be the best and now can invest more time in individual players, individual youth and also more rest because you have one place, it’s your home,” said the Dutchman, who is used to this sort of thing owing to his days with top international clubs.
“Everybody’s together, creating a real soccer environment. All the clubs in Europe do it, but I’m proud we’re the first in Canada we’re going to show everybody our vision. We’re going to develop the players not only for us to succeed with TFC, but also, in the long-term for the national team, for Canada Soccer.”
Having finally won a league game after an 0-9-0 start, as well as the Canadian Championship, the optimism even stretched to thoughts of a highly unlikely first playoff berth.
Though making it clear that there is a difference between hope and foolishness, director of player development Paul Mariner invoked one of the great axioms of sports: Anything can happen.
“If you look at it from a realistic standpoint we’ve got to almost go Supporter’s Shield (best in league) levels, we’ve almost got to get two points a game,” explained Mariner to a couple of reporters.
“Is it possible? Of course it’s possible. Is it probable? I don’t know. As we’ve seen over the years in football, something’s always around the corner ... It’s going to be a tall order, there’s no two ways around it, but it can be done.”
Perhaps, but Mariner’s arithmetic is correct.
With just three points earned after 10 matches, the Reds sit 15 points out of a playoff spot (though the club does have 1-5 games in hand compared to the rest of the East).
That leaves 24 games with 72 points available to make up the difference.
Even if the club eventually falls short of the playoffs, Anselmi is adamant that he at least wants to see wins coming in bunches the rest of the way.
“A year that started off with 50,000 people and everybody doing a happy dance over at the Rogers Centre (where TFC drew 2-2 with MLS champion Los Angeles at the CONCACAF Champions League) went sideways,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we’ve just got to get down to business and start winning games.
“Regular season in MLS is clearly a measuring stick of success. Hopefully this weekend (Toronto’s first victory of the year) was a start.”
Toronto FC’s soon to be sparkling new Kia Training Ground projects to be a state-of-the-art facility the envy of soccer clubs across North America.
Some facts and figures:
Cost: $21 million
Size: 40,000 square foot field house. 14 acres.
Pitches: 7; Three full-size grass, four artificial, two with air-supported bubbles for year-round use. One stadium field with seating for 1,000.
Other: Locker rooms; team offices; physiotherapy and rehabilitation area; video presentation theatre.
Kitchen: Can feed 120 per day, year-round.
Residence: For up to 18 players, to be completed by 2013.