By JOHN BOSCHINI
2011 is a year of new beginnings for Toronto FC.
An 11th-placed finish in last year's campaign fell wildly short of both fan and ownership expectations, resulting in the ousting of head coach Preki and director of soccer Mo Johnston. Under the advisement of former German national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, Toronto hired Ajax assistant Aron Winter head coach and brought Paul Mariner back to the MLS as director of player development following his unsucessful stint as manager of Plymouth Argyle.
With a revamped front office, Toronto played it safe in the off-season, sacrificing a first-round pick for Seattle Sounders midfielder Nathan Sturgis and strengthening its defensive and midfield core with picks in the later rounds of the Superdraft. Last season, Toronto conceded 41 goals while scoring only 31, mostly coming from 15-goal scorer Dwayne De Rosario. Seven more came from Chad Barrett but the former first-round pick was traded to the L.A. Galaxy in exchange for allocation money and Toronto has yet to fill the void with a big, off-season signing and will turn instead to its academy to provide an offensive spark
Despite all the changes that took place in Toronto this winter, the expectation for the 2011 season is the same as last year: Make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, no excuses.
Here's a closer look at Toronto's preseason:
Training Schedule: Jan. 27-Feb. 12 in Antayla, Turkey; Feb.12-Feb.21 in Toronto; Feb. 21-March 2 in Orlando, FL; March 2-March 13 in Charleston, SC.
Preseason Game Schedule: Feb. 10 vs. Dinamo Zagreb; Matches to be announced on Feb. 24, 26 in Toronto; 2011 Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, SC: March 5 vs. Chicago Fire; March 9 vs. Charleston Battery; March 12 vs. D.C. United.
Key Arrivals: MF – Nathan Sturgis, Joao Plata; D – Demitrius Omphroy, Matt Gold
Key Departures: GK – Jon Conway; F – Chad Barrett, O'Brian White, Fuad Ibrahim; D – Nick Garcia
What to Watch for: The first task for Toronto's newly-installed front office is to repair a contentious relationship between club and De Rosario. The lone 2010 All-Star for Toronto caused headlines towards the end of last season by voicing discontent with his current contract. This lead to an off-season trial with Scottish powerhouses Celtic FC of which Toronto had no knowledge. No move was ever made for De Rosario but the incident highlighted a detreriorating relationship. Also, a newcomer that could make an immediate impact is Ecuadorian Joao Plata, who fell to the third round despite impressing scouts at the MLS Combine.
Of Note: Captain De Rosario and defender Adrian Cann will have left Toronto's Turkey training camp to play for Canada against Greece on Feb. 9….Toronto also had six players called up to the Canadian U17 squad….The MLS announced that the domestic player rules would apply to both Canadian and American teams equally with both Canadians and Americans being considered domestic…The Carolina Challenge Cup will take place at the Blackbaud Stadium with Charleston Battery season ticket holders recieving complimentary tickets.