Everything Old, Everything New

by Rob Lynch, a-league.com Match Reporter


This time last year, the Toronto Lynx camp was buzzing with the promise of many things. As a result of many factors (not the least of which being a huge degree of mass uncertainty in numerous areas), the only promise delivered was an early end to the 2001 season. The team played well, they battled hard deep into stoppage time, but the Lynx were put to rest early. Some would say unfairly, others would say just desserts; regardless, 2001 ended with an unsteady feeling of opportunity lost and an obvious need to retool.

Flash-forward to April 2002 and the first official Lynx press conference of the new season. Upon walking into the reception hall, one couldn't help but notice a palpable sense of ease, confidence, and philosophical change. Several new sponsors have signed on to promote the team, they have a new revamped facility to play in, many new faces will be wearing the gold and black on the pitch, and there is a definite prevalence of the mindset 'there's nowhere to go but up'.

This is a very realistic goal for the team, and one they intend to meet through a subtle change in dynamics…and a good old-fashioned helping of whoop-ass. Their pre-season has gone very well, the players have gelled together much easier than in the past. This is the obvious result of keeping a strong core of contributors from last season (including the 2001 Rookie of the Year, Robbie Aristodemo), promoting a smattering of young hopefuls from local futbol depots, returning no less than three highly-regarded former Lynx alumni (Elvis Thomas, Milan Kojic, Nikola Vignjevic), and one wild card up front (former Wolves and Rough Riders striker, Irasto Knights) which could quite possibly bring the team Aces High.

No one here is living under any false notions of cakewalks; the A-league continues to be increasingly competitive. However, all facets of the Toronto Lynx are steadfast in their new season's beginning and where it's going to end. Coach and GM Peter Pinizzotto has two main benchmarks for the 2002 season: to increase the goal tally up front, and return the team to the post-season (which it missed last year after such a great run in 2000). "Like I said last season, you can't win without goals, and we just didn't get them when we really needed them. That's why we're very excited about Irasto coming to play here, he's got a reputation for being able to tear a defense apart and really finish." (Knight's best season was in 2000 with the Long Island Rough Riders, good for 19 points, including 8 goals).

Pinizzotto continued "we're very happy to have Vignjevic back too, who left us after the 2000 season ended to be with his family (back in Serbia). He's proven he can score when it matters and he's always played well for Toronto". (Vignjevic is tied as the Lynx all-time leading point scorer at 58).

The midfield and defense, always Toronto's strongest suit, essentially remains unchanged, save the welcome return of Milan Kojic to bolster the back line tandem of Adrian Serioux, Mauricio Vincello, captain Marco Reda and Joe Mattacchione. The midfield, already padded with the aforementioned Aristodemo, battle-savvy Brian Ashton and the slippery duo of David DiPlacido and Bobby Randhawa, can now work a myriad of combinations with a pair of promising rookies, Nikola Budalic and Shawn Faria.

"They both had had great pre-seasons and training camps", said Pinizzotto, "we're expecting good things from those two. It's hard passing over a veteran like Lyndon Hooper, but when you have a chance with so many talented young guys, you want to give them a chance and bring them along when you think they're ready."

In goal, stalwart giant Theo Zagar still stands tall, backed up by another new face, Pedro Viera. (Yuri Elkaim opted not to return this season for unknown reasons).

There are still a few slots on the team roster to fill (Argentine midfielder Waldo Sponton is still being considered to return, for example), and many initial possibilities have been deep-sixed (Darren Tilley will definitely not be part of the team as originally anticipated. The reasons for this will differ based upon who is offering, but officially his level of commitment conflicted with what the Lynx required). Quite refreshingly, Toronto have not made player selections this time around based upon unsubstantiated hearsay (2001's bargain basement white elephant, Kristian Grzetic) or former glory (the disastrous last stand of once-impressive Francisco Dos Santos). They have been meticulous and discriminating; unpopular traits to be sure, but required to stay competitive and fearsome.

Over the course of the press conference and ensuing lunch, many of the players mingled amongst the media to field any and all questions, and it was quickly apparent the team simply feel good about their forthcoming season (April 20th's 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds notwithstanding). This is not nearly enough to ensure a successful 2002 campaign, but it's a good start. As Marco Reda said when addressing the assembled media, "I'm not going to say the things up here I said last year, but this is a good team and we're going to do what we can to bring us back to the Toronto Lynx of 2000." Lynx fans could ask for nothing more.

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