Today was a very busy day for Toronto FC fans and players. The day kicked off with word breaking that Richard Eckersley had been signed by the club on a permanent basis. The defender was released from his contract yesterday by Burnley FC so that cleared the way for this move to take place. As per MLS policy we have no real clue of the terms of the deal but it is safe to assume that the Englishman has taken a pay cut to come back to Toronto so that he could fit under the cap along with all of the other players.
Eckersley was joined on the roster today by Geovanny Caicedo who was also announced as being signed to a long term contract by the club. Caicedo will be a big start towards fixing the needs at Centre Back as he is regarded as being a big powerful CB but also having a good head on him. Caicedo is now 30 years old and brings a wealth of experience from his time in his native Ecuador where he has also been capped with their national team.
Other than the signings being announced there were all kinds of player interviews throughout the day. On the whole, this event was all about the fun and less about players providing major insight in to things. If you don't have time to watch hours of interviews, then settle in for the coles notes to the day after the jump.
The best news of the day is that there were no massive bombs dropped today like last year when we got word that Dwayne De Rosario was considering going on strike. This years event was light-hearted, fun, and on the whole showed that the players are excited for the new season.
On the whole the event was mostly just players chatting about their roles with the club which in many cases was things we already knew but it was nice to hear from some of the new faces. But even with the old faces, it's worth a rundown of their interview.
Mariner, Winter, De Klerk, Cochrane: The management group took a lot of questions but their conference started off with the announcement that the club has signed Caicedo. Winter was first up to comment that last season they did not have a very good roster to start with but this season they do have that. They have worked hard to fill the needs including the signings of Hall, Lambe and Caicedo along with scouting of the college players they have drafted. Winter went on to address the significance of the game on March 7th which will be a good start to the season where he hopes to carry over the way that they ended last season.
Winter commented that Adrian Cann is doing well, March 7 will likely be too soon for him but he is on course to come back but Dicoy Williams is going to take a bit longer before he is game ready. With this being Winter and Co's first full preseason in charge the focus is on getting everyone game fit. He prefers that the team is focused and not traveling much during the preseason. Winter then did say that another defender will be coming in and the chances are big that he will be from Chile. They now have a big roster going in to camp and they are very happy with the roster that they have at the moment.
There was also some talk about the longer schedule and how that will impact the teams approach. For Winter the significant point in that is to have a team where you have at least two players that can compete and play at every position. He also remarked that he thinks the reduced number of trips out west will be good for the team as it is less travel and more time to train. In his eyes it does not make things any easier for the club though. With last season being such a difficult season the team is aiming to make the playoffs and advance in CONCACAF but he added that they are still a team that is growing and the three year plan remains in place.
Cochrane added that in the past the team took much longer then they should have to complete the squad and often it took them until some time into the season. This year there are only a handful of roster spots open to competition in preseason and they managed to get most of their work done in the previous few months.
Mariner added that adressing the back line was easier said than done as they were trying to get the right players in those positions. He attributes some of last seasons struggles to the injuries to Williams and Cann, and said that they are always looking to strengthen the squad. He then commented on the fact that the club worked hard to bring back Eckersley and Plata as they were fan favourites and would also help to make the team solid. They felt that Ecks, at 22, is set to be one of the best Right Backs in the league for a long time. He felt that Plata developed really well last season and is now a player that not many defenders want to play against. It was important for the team to maintain stability and quality.
Winter wrapped up the group segment by addressing the fact that they did not expect anyone to leave and that included denying the suggestion that Stefan Frei might be staying over in Europe.
Earl Cochrane: Talked about the signing of Caicedo who had been on the club's radar since he was in Toronto with Ecuador for the friendly against Canada last summer. They were working on the deal for two or three months and it was finalized a few days ago. He sees him as solidifying the CB position by bringing loads of experience both at the club level and the national level. Cochrane noted that Caicedo is right footed and is apparently a monster. He is good in the air at 6'1" as well as being big and strong which should make him the anchor the back four has lacked in recent seasons. Earl wrapped up by commenting that the club is more stable then ever as well as having increased balance all over the field.
Bob DeKlerk: The Dutchman began by talking about how Kocic impressed last season by being very athletic and good with his feet. He made sure to add that the team now has two very good goalkeepers in Kocic and Frei which is important in the demanding MLS setup. DeKlerk felt that having been in place for an entire year the management team has now had more time to employ their vision in the team which they could not really do before last season. He commented on the 9 players from the academy invited in to camp, remarking that the youth department is the future of the club and they have a high standard of talent in the academy. He mentioned that they have two top talents in the camp right now from the academy but did not name any names. It is important for the club's vision that they look to bring in youth players when they have the talent rather than look elsewhere to find talent via trade or other means. DeKlerk added that he would love to continue on with the club beyond his 3 year deal in a more long term role. On Caicedo he remarked that he was big and strong and that he should be a good fit in their system as well as the MLS.
Tom Anselmi: Commented that their was a lack of stability in the first few years but now that is something that they are focused on building from the front office down. The addition of Toronto FC and their academy is a new addition to the pyramid as well as showing a shift in the MLS way of thinking. Tom commented that all of this will help to make development in the country better which should improve TFC as well as the national team. He remarked that they are talking about expansion to BMO Field but no major improvements are in the works for the coming year. The additional seats would apparently be the next big thing but that will not be until it makes sense. Tom said that there are a couple thousand tickets left for March 7th but otherwise it is pretty much sold out already.
Paul Beirne: He has been spending much of his time lately learning about the construction process and monitoring the development of the new training and academy complex. Had a bit of a chat about the menu at BMO for next year but nothing really all that useful. He added on to the ticket sales numbers saying only single tickets are available now and they are closer to 40,000 tickets sold in total. Paul had no ETA for an announcement on a TV schedule but was hoping to have it done in a week to ten days.
Keith Makubuya: The academy grad is really looking forward to getting more minutes in the first team this year. He commented that he had talked with the coaching staff and they told him that he is closer to the first team now. He will look to provide depth at the CF position. Maka also had a lot of positives to say about the new academy and the fact that it will allow the club to go younger.
Oscar Cordon: Like Keith he is looking to fight for more minutes this season. Had a bunch of useless stuff to say about Real Madrid but I am sure none of you are interested in that. Cordon commented that he did a lot of strength and conditioning in the offseason along with training with the under 20's but he still looked as small as ever!
Terry Dunfield: Commented on the core of the team being back, a good bunch of young guys and things looking a lot better now. Terry sees the value of the likes of himself, Danny, and Torsten having a year of experience in the league and are now more familiar with the demands that come from the playing style and the travel. He gets a bunch of bonus points for saying that in some ways Toronto is ahead of Vancouver. He was happy playing in his home town of Vancouver but is liking the city of Toronto at least.
Ashtone Morgan: The Canadian Under 20 player of the year talked about his goal of making the playoffs. He was focused on improving the mental side of the game for the team so that errors do not cost them points. Morgan remarked that he was really nervous when he made his debut but it was a dream come true for him. Has been working out over the offseason to stay sharp for the preseason.
Adrian Cann: The big news from the Canadian Centre Back is that the rehab remains on track. He was on the field already today doing some running and now it is up to the coaching staff if it is time for him to get back to playing. He seems to be over his injury and is ready to go back to training so that he can be eased back into playing. Things have been going smooth for him since his surgery in the summer which is good news for both Toronto FC and the national team. Cann is aiming to get back with the National team but his first goal is to get back to being productive for Toronto. With his contact all sorted out things are stable for Cann for once and he can now focus on easing his way back in.
Doneil Henry: Another academy grad who is ready to get back to work, continue growing, and make more of a contribution this season. Henry feels that he has learned to read the game better and has grown in confidence since he first came in to the team. Commented on the increased competition that there will be in practice this year with so many players pushing for minutes in a variety of positions. Henry has worked hard to get stronger and more fit to try and earn himself a starting position. This offseason he has tried to go from being fit to being game fit and pushing his training to another level. The most interesting part of his interview was that he has been doing some coaching of u-11/u-12 kids to help increase his understanding of the game and to help nurture some of the young talent around Toronto.
Aaron Maund and Luis Silva: Maund commented that being picked was a dream come true for him and he is really excited now to be in Toronto as he is enjoying his time in the city so far. Silva added that he was excited to be here but is also missing his family a little bit being so far away from them. Silva commented that the fans in Toronto are already crazy and he has been hearing great things about the fans and the team. He feels that the guys on the team are very nice and has been getting along with them well so far. Avila has been showing him around the city a little bit and told him about the style of play to help his transition. The rest of their interview was just basically about basketball and musical taste so not much there really.
Milos Kocic: Milos commented that having a big game to start the new season is a new feeling for his time at the club. There is a real excitement among the players about that CCL game and the coming season. Milos said he does not like taking time off so he spent the whole off season working out to stay fit. He is very self critical and always looking to improve his game so at the end of last season he talked to the coaches and looked for areas to improve. He plans on fighting for more minutes next season and feels that he still has a lot of room to build on last seasons performances. He feels that his relationship with Stefan Frei is important so it pushes them to not take a single day off and improve their games to keep up with one another. He talked to Mike Toshack after he left the club and wished him luck adding that it is great for everybody as they have a new coach who will bring something new to both keepers game.
Ty Harden: Yet another player who added to the comments on the stability in the club that allows them to build on the good results at the end of last season. He added that he did carry an ankle injury for parts of last season but now it is totally fine for the most part and he is feeling healthy. Ty commented on all the changes that took place in the back line last season changing between 4 at the back and 3 at the back. He feels that now they have a group that has the talent and is willing to work for each other which is more important than the formation. He thinks that they have a very talented team, one of the more talented ones he has been on, so with that stability he is looking forward to the season.
Elbekay Bouchiba and Nick Soolsma: You know that Bouchiba was hurt a long time when the interviewers said nice to meet you at the start of the interview! Soolsma commented that unlike Danny K he is not a big fan of games so I guess that means that not all dutch people love to play Settlers of Catan. Nick commented on the improvement in the squad towards the end and again mentioned the stability and familiarity that comes with being in the league for a second season. Bouchiba talked about missing all of last season after an injury in training and that he feels good now and is back in training. His knee is very good but still needs time to improve the small things that he lost from not training for several months. Nick added that he wants to be in the first team which will mean working hard in training as the additions to the team, including Lambe, means there is more competition for his spot. He feels this is a physical league so you have to play with a lot of power, which is an adjustment from the more technical game in Europe. Now that he is used to that, he knows that he needs to be more fit and ready for that battling nature of the game. Bouchiba wrapped up by stating that he is more of a defensive midfielder by trade and that is where he would like to be once he is fully fit again.
Joao Plata and Geovanny Caicedo: This was an interesting interview as Luis Silva actually serves as the translator for the players. Caicedo confirmed what had been said earlier that he first heard that Toronto was interested in him when he came to play Canada with his national team. He had a conversation with some members of the staff at the time and since then the club kept an eye on him. Plata is very happy that his deal is now done and he is excited to be back in Toronto. He trained hard in the offseason and is just excited for the game against the Galaxy. Caicedo added that he had heard that MLS is a physical league which suits him well as a big player. He also stated that he is very technical and is not just going to be a big body. He wants to be a vocal leader on the team and likes to organize the players around him at the back. Plata went on to remark that he was really thankful for how Julian De Guzman worked to help him settle in to the team and the city.
There were more interviews that I will add notes on as I watch back the clips over the course of the evening and as they are added to Toronto FC TV.