22 February 2012

Disney preview: Toronto FC

The 2012 Disney Pro Soccer Classic starts on Friday, signaling the final countdown to the MLS season. I’ll be calling games at the tournament for the third straight year, teaming up with Simon Borg as part of MLSsoccer.com’s coverage of the group stage and then working the final day of the tournament on the ESPN3 broadcasts. As the week goes on, I’ll preview each of the eight teams set to participate in Orlando.

This is the third edition of the tournament, and three teams have participated in each one: Houston, Dallas, and Toronto. Two of those will take the field for their first game on Saturday, and that brings us to my fifth preview, Toronto.

Disney Pro Soccer Classic
Team Previews

The basics
Team: Toronto FC (MLS)
Head Coach: Aron Winter (2nd season)

2011 results: 6-13-15, 8th place, Eastern Conference
CONCACAF Champions League: advanced to quarterfinals

Returning Starters: MF Julian de Guzman, DF Richard Eckersley, GK Stefan Frei, MF/DF Torsten Frings, FW/MF Ryan Johnson, FW Danny Koevermans, FW Joao Plata, FW/MF Nick Soolsma,
Key Newcomers: DF Miguel Aceval, DF Geovanny Caicedo, MF Luis Silva

I’m looking forward to watching …
Joao Plata. How can you not love a guy who stands 5-foot-2, will turn 20 years old during the tournament, and plays in a country where he speaks neither of the major languages, yet still is largely responsible for driving his new team to its greatest success? Plata had eight goals and eight assists last year in all competitions, including four goals in Champions League play to lead Toronto to the quarterfinals. A right-footed player who plays left wing, he brings electric dribbling moves to the table every night. I'm also excited for my first look at Dutch forward Danny Koevermans, who had eight goals in 10 MLS games last year.

Most important position …
Center back. While Toronto is infinitely more settled and confident in Year 2 of the Aron Winter area, there remain a lot of question marks entering the season. One is where former German international Torsten Frings will play. He’s influential even at 35, but he was forced into duty at center back last year due to injuries. If newcomers Miguel Aceval and/or Geovanny Caicedo can contribute in the middle, or if Adrian Cann can come back from injury, it will free up Frings to play alongside Julian de Guzman and give Toronto real midfield bite in its 4-3-3. Ty Harden, Dicoy Williams (injury), and Aaron Maund (rookie) are also options at the back.

Under the radar …
Milos Kocic. My instinct is still to think of Toronto’s No. 2 goalkeeper in connection with his butterfingers moment in Champions League play last year. But he settled down with Stefan Frei injured and backstopped Toronto throughout the tournament while also starting seven MLS games. He and Frei, widely thought to be one of the league’s best goalkeepers, are supposedly battling head-to-head for this year’s starting spot. It’s rare, but these final preseason games could help Winter choose his starter. Honorable mention to 21-year-old left back Ashtone Morgan, who came into his own last year and started down the stretch.

On trial …
By my count, Toronto has 27 players under contract, so that leaves only three open spots. Still, there are some intriguing names in Orlando, including drafted midfielder Michael Green, Salvadoran midfielder Efrain Burgos Jr., and former U.S. U-20 internationals Moises Orozco (FW) and Kevin Huezo (MF). Toronto also brought seven Academy players, including five veterans of Canada’s squad at last year’s U-17 World Cup and 15-year-old forward Jordan Hamilton. I don’t know if any of them will see game action, but it’s always interesting to see players try and make the step up.

Keep in mind …
Toronto needs to hit the ground running, opening with the Champions League quarterfinals against the LA Galaxy. It’s safe to say the first leg, held indoors in front of about 40,000 fans (hopefully) at the Rogers Centre on March 7, is the biggest game in club history. Winter could put more focus on getting his starters match-fit in two of the three games with an eye to a strong mid-week start.

Saturday, February 25, 6 p.m. ET, Toronto at Orlando City
(MLSsoccer.com – Yardley / Borg)
Tuesday, February 28, 6 p.m. ET, Toronto vs. BK Hacken
(MLSsoccer.com – Williams / Yadrich)
Thursday, March 1, 6 p.m. ET, Toronto vs. FC Dallas
(MLSsoccer.com – Yardley / Borg)

Opener: Wednesday, March 7, 7 p.m. ET, Toronto vs. LA Galaxy
(CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals -- Rogers Centre)
MLS Opener: Saturday, March 17, 10 p.m. ET, Toronto at Seattle
(CenturyLink Field)
MLS Home Opener: Saturday, March 24, 1 p.m. ET, Toronto vs. San Jose
(BMO Field)

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