December 19, 2006 Toronto Star reporter at Toronto FC Open tryouts (from Toronto Star)

Intrepid reporter falls flat in tryout

RICK MADONIK/TORONTO STAR Tim Lai, in hot pursuit of the ball yesterday, has his dream of playing for the new Toronto FC team come to a crashing halt. Hundreds of would-be players attended the open tryouts.

Sports reporter Tim Lai gives it a whirl with Toronto FC team

December 19, 2006
Tim Lai

For hundreds of soccer dreamers, it was a day about goals – potting a few in the back of the onion bag, catching a coach's eye and keeping up with younger players.

My goal was much more modest: don't embarrass myself by falling flat on my face.

Mission unaccomplished.

Twice, actually, I got an up-close look at the turf at the Soccer Centre in Vaughan, the site of Toronto FC's week-long open tryout. Both times, I tried to catch up to over-the-top crosses from my understanding teammates. (I'll blame it on new shoes and never playing on indoor turf during my years as a soccer enthusiast.)

It has been eight years since I played competitive regional soccer in B.C. – I'm 24 – and I was about 50 pounds lighter. I picked up the game again this summer in a recreational league, but I still felt awkward on the pitch. Good thing I warned my team about being a reporter instead of a soccer hopeful. Doing elliptical sessions over the past few weeks evidently didn't bring my fitness level up to par.

Fortunately, my clumsy play was overshadowed by some real talent on my team, guys who will get second and, hopefully, third looks later in the week.

"I'm looking for everything, someone who has the full package. Can I find it here? Who knows," head coach Mo Johnston said before I laced up. "There's a lot of people chasing a dream here."

For many yesterday, there are no regrets about leaving without an invitation to the team's training camp in February. For three guys on my team of nine, the dream will continue.

Take Jonathan Hurtis, a 22-year-old striker who found the back of the net several times. He flew in from Paris four days ago with five other friends just to get an hour to impress the coaching staff after a friend attending Sheridan College informed the skilled group of the tryout.

"In France, it's very difficult to become a professional soccer player," said the soft-spoken, left-footed player whose proficiency of the beautiful game surpasses his English.

It cost about 500 euros, or $760, for a flight and shared accommodations near Square One for the week, a small price to pay, Hurtis said.

He's not the only non-local product. Canadians from across the country as well as players from Brazil, Germany, England and all parts of the U.S. paid their own way.

Johnston and other coaches spent a large part of our afternoon session hovering over our field instead of the other two pitches. Our game was extended five minutes to give them a longer look at Hurtis.

It's his first time in Toronto, but Hurtis said if given the break he would like to come back to play. He has been amazed by how everything is much bigger than his hometown. Plus the "nice girls," he said with a grin.

Hurtis, who suits up for US d'Ivry, single-handedly could have taken the game over against the other team, which had no subs due to last-minute dropouts, but he willingly distributed the ball to make other players look good.

"He made my job so easy up front," said Kobby Adjei, a University of Ottawa midfielder who will also get a second look after rattling the net a few times.

Adjei, who arrived in North York 10 years ago from Ghana, was not only a swift player on the field, he was a positive force in the dressing room, encouraging everyone for their efforts.

He's hoping this opportunity could lead to his dream of playing for Ghana on his home continent when the 2010 World Cup kicks off in South Africa.

"Poverty levels back home are very high. Soccer is a way out and I always used that as my dream," said the 24-year-old, who relished the chance to play for a number of scouts.

It's too bad our keeper, Daniel Bell, didn't get to face more shots and show off his flair. Bell, who is finishing his political science degree at the University of Buffalo, an NCAA Div.1 school, was frustrated with the "low" level of play in the first round, but that was to be expected given that more than 900 players, ranging from as young as 13 to as old as 56, signed up.

But Bell will get his shot later in the week, like Hurtis and Adjei, on a bigger field. Our coach, Rafael Carbajal, came into our dressing room to tell him the news, but Bell had rushed out since the tryout took place during his lunch break from his wood-working job in Bolton.

Bell, who is also in line for a tryout with the Vancouver Whitecaps, is an example of a local player who deserves a break, something that 33-year-old Anthony Mazzuca said is long overdue. "You're going to see a lot of kids get a shot and we've had wicked ballers here in the city for many years," said the midfielder, who tried out 10 years ago for the now-defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny.

The elder statesman of our team, 44-year-old Anthony Mifsud, had perhaps the most enterprising reason to try out. At his age, the local actor knew his birthdate would eliminate his chances, but all he wanted was to get his resumé in the right person's hand to possibly land a job with the club's communications department. That goal, he thinks he scored.

"I'm impressed I played on a squad with guys who have a shot at it," the steady and fit sweeper said. "I'm in a fantastic mood that I came out of this not on a stretcher and in an ambulance."

Likewise. I was just hoping I'd only be out of shape, but in the end, I was more out of place.

back to Toronto FC menu