January 30, 2007 Toronto FC plan training (from Canadian Press)

Toronto FC taking slow approach

TORONTO (CP) - It's finally time for Toronto FC to kick a ball, but the expansion MLS team is taking baby steps to start with.

Coach Mo Johnston and his work-in-progress side will meet Thursday at the indoor Ontario Soccer Center near the airport to begin the on-field work. "It's exciting to see them all roll into town," Johnston said Tuesday. The Toronto FC roster is still under construction, however, so there is room to grow. Plus some players are sorting out visa problems.

The club has to sort out the red tape for Togo forward Abdoulaye Ibrahim and Brazilian midfielder Paulo Nagamura. Some visas that have worked in the past in the U.S. need tweaking to get into Canada.

"It's been a little bit hectic, but we're fighting through it," Johnston said.

The first stage of the camp is basically a mixer.

"It's only a get-together, touch the ball a little bit, get acquainted with each other," the Scottish coach said. "Obviously the harder work will start in Florida."

The squad is scheduled to fly south to train in Sunrise, Fla., from Feb. 12 to 24. Then it's back to Toronto for training before returning to Florida to practice in Bradenton from March 5 to 17. Next is the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, S.C., from March 21 to April 1.

Toronto will open the season April 7 in Carson, Calif., against Chivas USA and then play April 14 in New England against the Revolution before returning home to host the Kansas City Wizards on April 28.

Johnston was quick to note that much can change during training camp.

"A lot of people, they think they've made the team and really sometimes it doesn't happen that way," he said. "Because certain guys can get traded in pre-season, certain guys want traded and certain guys obviously you're looking at picking up."

Johnston has been open and accessible so far as Toronto coach, but is closing the camp to the media for the first four days.

"I'm not normally like that," he said.

But Johnston says the doors will be closed to start with because he wants the team to bond without the distraction of cameras.

"There's a lot of media here. It's not like that in the U.S.," he said.

Plus he wants to try out some new talent, without alerting rival clubs.

The league has no rules on whether practices should be open or closed, leaving it up to the individual teams.

MLS regular-season rosters can accommodate 18 players plus another 10 developmental players, most of whom will come from the Canadian under-20 ranks. Given the under-20 squad is preparing for the world championships later this year, Johnston may not have access them for much of training.

The 10 developmental players, usually youth internationals or part of the Generation Adidas program, are essentially paid for by the league.

So is his team where Johnston wants it to be?

"Not even close," he said. "Could I take a team over and play? Yes. But not even close (to finishing)."

Toronto FC still has dollars to spend. The search for talent continues.

"Every day," he said. "Every day. Our network's fairly extensive at the moment."

Notes: Forward Alecko Eskandarian and defender Marco Reda are both suffering from slight injury knocks coming into camp. ... Johnston says his recent trip to the Canadian national team camp in Florida was worthwhile given it allowed him to speak to the Canadian management about international call-ups. "We have to be able to work together," Johnston said. "My door's open. But I can't have two of my goalkeepers going to the national team and I don't have a goalkeeper."

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