Toronto FC's media day was a bit lacking in terms of big story-lines. Most of the excitement already happened earlier in the offseason and now the team is just focused on getting down to business. There was the questions about Julio Cesar and Matias Laba but outside of that there was not much or real interest.
At this point, the players have gotten so good at just saying what they are supposed to say and nothing more so it is hard to force a narrative out on a day that is often like pulling teeth for players how would rather be anywhere else. Spending their day shooting promo clips, taking head-shots, and talking to the media is not the highlight of the preseason for any player even if they do get the day off from training.
So rather than trying to stretch random thoughts into a number of articles I will take the easy way out and share a few thoughts of my own which are similar to those of several others who were also there on the day.
1 - Playoffs are clearly the minimum goal for this team heading into the season but there are some guys who are already talking about bigger things than just making the playoffs for the first time. Reggie Lambe added the desire to win the Voyageurs Cup and make it back to the CONCACAF Champions League while Joe Bendik is hoping to hoist the MLS Cup on his shoulders come December. With the kind of talent now on the roster it only makes sense for the team to be aiming big.
2 - The team seemed to be getting along really well and bonding nicely heading into the season. It may help to have a nice stable core returning from last season as the players already look to be getting along. They had team bonding at the Raptors game on Monday night and the first camp in Florida seemed to bring them together nicely. The bond showed the most among the younger players who were having a good time together while waiting for their turns to face the media. The players I talked to also had a lot of respect for the veterans on the team with the likes of Steven Caldwell, Dwayne De Rosario, and most notably Michael Bradley already looking like natural leaders on this team with Jermain Defoe still to come.
3 - Not one player was looking out of shape after the first two weeks of training camp. A few guys were carrying small injuries that were slowing down their training but they all looked to be in good shape. That would seem like a minimum standard for professional athletes but TFC players have come into camp in poor shape in the past. The most notable player of the bunch was Doneil Henry who may have put on 10-15 pounds of muscle mass since the last time I saw him. He looked a lot bigger through his shoulders and was carrying an intensity with him that he did not have in the past. The fresh faced kid was no where to been seen on media day as he looks ready to be a force this season with added focus and strength.
4 - There is no word yet on who will be heading to Wilmington but some of the younger players that I spoke to were certainly open to the idea of going out on loan. Quillan Roberts, Jordan Hamilton, and Manny Aparicio all know it is possible that they will spend time there this summer but will have to wait until after the Walt Disney Pro Soccer classic to get a better picture of what the plan will be for their seasons. For Roberts and Hamilton priority number one was learning as much as they can in training and getting the chance to play some games this season. While Hamilton looks like an impressive physical specimen who continues to improve his strength as he ages the same cannot be said for Manny Aparicio who is going to need to find a way to overcome his lack of size if he is ever going to make it in MLS.
5 - Toronto FC now have 28 players under contract and that number does not include any of the players who they selected in the Super Draft. They will likely have to subtract some players prior to March 1st but according to Tim Bezbatchenko they have all kinds of options to make room both on the roster and under the salary cap should they need to. The GM also made it sound like loaning players to Wilmington would open up space on the roster which would be interesting as it would allow the club to carry more players under contract this season.
6 - Issey Nakajima-Farran has completed his trial with the club but Bezbatchenko did note that the club are now considering their options and will decide in the coming days if they want to offer him a contract. Several players who I spoke to said they were impressed by the winger and felt he would be a good addition to the team if they do decide to sign him.
7 - Gilberto has set a lofty goal for himself. In two separate interviews he set a lofty target for his own scoring tally this season saying he would like to get 20 or 25 goals this year. That is certainly aiming high considering the MLS scoring record for a single season is 27 and even if he scored 20 goals that would put him in the top ten all time. Great to see him aiming high but hopefully it does not come back to haunt him if he winds up having an average season and comes up well short of his target. It was amusing to watch Gilberto try to communicate with his teammates who speak zero Portuguese. He got very animated with his hands in hopes that would help convey his point, it didn't.
8 - Ryan Richter has been training as a CB since the end of last season and will be used in that position rather than being primarily a right back. He has the height to be a CB but could stand to bulk up a bit if he is going to make the transition and successful one. The team do need a bit more depth at CB and this move could allow them to ease Nick Hagglund in or even send him to Wilmington for a team.
9 - The back four is going to look quite a bit different this season when the team plays Justin Morrow, Doneil Henry, Steven Caldwell, and Bradley Orr across the back. The foursome brings a fair bit of size and strength to the defence but may not have as much to offer going forward. The days of Richard Eckersley and Ashtone Morgan bombing down the wings may be gone but don't expect Morgan to give up his starting spot without a fight as he seemed motivated by the arrival of Morrow.
10 - Tim Bezbatchenko was a bus driver in another life. When talking about the situation with Matias Laba he was more than willing to point out that in the past TFC management had failed to properly communicate with their players. He intends to change that though by actually sitting down with Laba to let the player express his preferences. He also mentioned how the lack of playoffs in the past was unacceptable. He certainly was not wrong on either front.