Toronto FC needs warm bodies, preferably ones that are capable of playing the game but at this point beggars can't really be choosers. After being very slow to bring in new players and leaving fans waiting for any form of a signing the club is at least doing something. Over the last couple of days there has been an influx of trialists and even though none of them are big names or potential difference makers at least it shows the club is taking a look at players to fill all of those vacant roster slots.
The first two trialists of the preseason are both gone already. Joevin Jones was cut loose without playing a single minute of preseason play and he was then followed by Nicolas Cabrera who got cut sometime in the lead-up to the match against the Philadelphia Union despite looking at least somewhat competent in his previous appearances.
Fear not though! There are new and exciting trialists in camp now that might just be what the club needs. Problem is that for the most part these new players don't really fit into the positions of greatest need. The club has been joined in Orlando by Darel Russell, Henrik Robstad, Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault, Carlos Martinez, and Justin Davis. It is no dream team but hopefully at least one player in that group shows they have something to offer.
Russell, who apparently ended up in camp because he is friends with Jim Brennan, is a bit of a man of all trades in terms of the positions that he is capable of slotting into having played down the right side, as a holding midfielder, and a centre back at different points in his long career in the English leagues. Unsurprisingly he did not play in any of those positions against the Union though as the club put him in at left back in place of the still injured Ashtone Morgan. His performance in the end was nothing to get excited about and he showed very little to inspire confidence that he is worth signing and using an international slot on a 32 year old who most recently was part of a shambolic Portsmouth team that wins about as many games as TFC did in 2012.
Henrik Robstad is another player who is not going to create a lot of excitement among fans. He is an actual left back but did not get the start against the Union but he did get into the game just after the hour mark. Like the rest of the team he did little to impress which was probably to be expected as the former Coastal Carolina (same school as Ashton Bennett) defender does not have the kind of resume that would make you expect big things. The international from Norway decided to forgo the end of his college eligibility and headed into camp with the San Jose Earthquakes but that trial did not last all that long and now he has moved on to Toronto FC. He was an anchor for Coastal Carolina but would have had to put in an even better final two years of college play if he were to even wind up as a SuperDraft pick in 2015. By leaving school early in the hopes of going pro he must think he has something to offer but we didn't really see that against the Union.
The next trialist is a much more familiar name as he is a Canadian international in the form of Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault. JBB already has nine caps with the Canadian men's national team at 24 years of age but the defensive midfielder has not really gotten his club career rolling like he would have hoped. He has had decent stops at FC St. Pauli, SV Wilhelmshaven, and SC Preußen Münster but seemed to be moving backwards down the German leagues rather than progressing towards the top. He spent the last two seasons at Munster but is now on the hunt for a new club which has led him to Toronto FC.
JBB is a solid defensive midfielder but at this stage in his career does not represent an upgrade on Terry Dunfield, Torsten Frings, or Julio Cesar skill wise though he certainly has a lot less miles on him that any of that trio. When playing for Canada he has always been a reliable and effective option but lacked the ability to impose himself on a game. Most recently he featured in the friendly against the United States down in Houston and he put in a good shift as he managed to not stand out for any glaring errors but also did not stand out for any brilliant play. If you want to compare him to Toronto's better known Canadian defensive midfielders he is certainly more like Dunfield in that he is a good value for his money and will work hard and is unlike Julian De Guzman in that he lacks the skill to be a difference maker and costs a whole lot less.
JBB only got about 15 minutes of playing time against the Union and did not have all that much time to make a major impression. He did his normal thing and did not stand out in any way either good or bad and hopefully that is enough to convince the coaching staff that he is at least worth a more extended look.
On Sunday, Toronto announced the addition of two more trialists. The first is Justin Davis who is another left back and is a 24 year old American whose last stop was a fairly successful stint with Minnesota Stars FC. Davis was considered to be one of the best left backs in NASL the past couple of seasons so it is no surprise that he is now trying to make the jump to MLS. With the club in need of a backup for Morgan on that side of the defense he is probably the most exciting prospect in the bunch. He is a defense first back which is probably a good thing after watching the issues that TFC has when its outside backs decide to attack first and leave the center backs exposed. He is the one trialist of the bunch that has me actually excited about what he might have to offer but don't take it from me take it from someone who has seen him play a fair bit in recent years, Steve Sandor over on The11.
The trialist crowd is rounded off by Carlos Martinez who is a central midfielder that is capable of playing on the attacking side of things. Not that many years ago he was considered one of the better American prospects as he was a key member of their U17 team and did feature at the U20 level briefly under Thomas Rongen. He had all the talent needed to be the engine for his side but somewhere it seems to have gone wrong for him. He was a starter for the U17 program before suddenly getting booted from the squad in 2008 for breaking team rules. He may have been removed for something as simple as repeatedly breaking curfew but it seemed to put his career off the rails and his big overseas move never came to pass. As a teenager he drew interest and trials from clubs like Tigres, Bayern Munich, and Boca Juniors among several other impressive names. The big move didn't happen but he kept trying to find a club in Europe to play for which led him to joining Energie Cottbus where he played as part of the youth setup. That did not really work out either as he continues to move around having recently spent time training with FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt.
It is hard to say where it has all gone so wrong for Martinez who seemed on the verge of making a major splash in Europe or South America when he was 16 years old. Now, having just celebrated his 21st birthday, he is back in North America trying to get things back on course. He is not the first talented American player who went off to Europe only to end up coming back to MLS in hopes of turning things around. It is the same course that players like Mobi Fehr and Gale Agbossoumonde took this past off season.
A reclamation project of a player who was once a top prospect is nothing new for Toronto and it should not be a surprise that they would at least give a look to a player that Rongen knows and has shown the talent to succeed in the past. It is the same thing TFC is doing by taking on Boss and hoping that at some point the play on the field matches the talent that once made him a top prospect.
It is not a group of trialists that are going to turn TFC into a contender over night but it certainly is nice to see the club taking the time to use their preseason camp to get a look at a number of players. There is no harm to bringing in trialists as it is something every team does at this stage in the season so it is nice to see Toronto getting involved and making up for lost time a bit. With two Supplemental draft picks in Ashtone Bennett and Taylor Morgan still around with all the trialists it should at last make for some heated competition for places on the roster. In the end, hopefully Ryan Nelsen and his coaching staff can at least find a couple of useful pieces from the bunch which can combine with a couple of key signings to round the roster out nicely.