January 15, 2007 International flavor spices up Toronto FC (from TorontoFC.ca)

01/15/2007 4:40PM
International flavor spices up Toronto FC
By Mike Ulmer / TorontoFC.ca

TORONTO -- There are three million people living in Toronto proper and the census boys say 1.2 million of those souls, 41 percent, were born outside of Canada.

They call Toronto the City of Nations and in this way, it is the perfect venue for the world's game, soccer. Small wonder that more than 10,000 season tickets have been sold for the club's inaugural year at the new BMO Field.

And small wonder that Toronto FC's unveiling of prospects chosen at last week's Super Draft brought together coach Mo Johnston, a Scot, number one choice Maurice Edu, a Californian whose parents came to America from Nigeria, Canadian Jeff Gonsalves, whose parents came to Toronto from Guyana and Rich Asante, another Canadian who emigrated from Ghana.

The dais was crowded with people from afar who are now in the process of embracing a life here. They came here for the same reason their parents did: opportunity.

"Toronto is a new franchise and I'm looking forward to building something new here," Edu said.

He's got a chance. The 20-year-old from Fontana, Calif., is nearly through his career at the University of Maryland, where he distinguished himself as an NSCAA First Team All-American. He is a defensive midfielder with explosiveness, a hard tackler with real ability in the air.

It has been soccer with him forever, despite ability in the more widely accepted avenues of football and basketball.

"Soccer was just what I did. My parents came from Nigeria and my dad got me into it," he said. "We would watch it on television. Because my dad was a coach, people would make tapes for us of overseas games and we would watch them together."

Rich Asante, chosen in the third round, 27th overall, came to Toronto at the age of 11 from Ghana.

"My dad came over here for a year and worked," Asante said. "Then he sent for us, four kids and my mom."

Asante is an explosive attacker, just 5-4, a 21-year-old with experience in the national team program who brings modest scoring totals (five goals, four assists) from Syracuse University. He will probably need more seasoning but doesn't want to be counted out.

"I think I've got a chance," he said. "It's just a question of how quickly I can adjust from college to the pro game."

Forward Gonsalves is a Markham native who scored 42 goals in 88 games with the University of Rhode Island. Like Edu, he was encouraged to play at home by parents from Africa who viewed the game as a natural pursuit.

"I played all the time, all year round. I just loved the game from the beginning," said Gonsalves, chosen in the fourth round.

The only other player drafted by Toronto FC is University of New Mexico defender Andrew Boyens. Boyens, a six-foot-four player who could step immediately into the lineup, wasn't available. He was home ... in New Zealand.

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