March 28, 2007 Toronto FC in Carolina Challenge Cup (from Toronto Star)

FC coach thrilled to be in Carolina Cup

'You are playing quality teams,' Johnston says of four-team tourney

Mar 28, 2007 04:30 AM

DANIEL ISLAND, S.C.–The moment organizers of the Carolina Challenge Cup invited Toronto FC to their pre-season soccer tournament, head coach Mo Johnston knew his team would spend the last week of March in South Carolina's Low Country.

"It was a no-brainer saying yes," Johnston said. "You're playing quality teams and it's a nice city and a beautiful little stadium. We're excited this week, if nothing else."

The four-team tournament, which runs through Saturday night, has quickly become a premier pre-season event for Major League Soccer teams, and a barometer for the upcoming season.

In each of the tournament's first three years, the winner has gone on to win either the MLS Cup or the Supporters' Shield, which goes to the team with the best regular-season record.

Last season Houston won both the Carolina Challenge Cup and the MLS championship.

The tournament also had more immediate meaning for Johnston. It was a chance to test his team against pro competition after a winter spent spanking U.S. college teams.

"No disrespect to college teams," Johnston said.

"They work hard, they close you down. But there's a lot that's lost."

Tonight Toronto will play Johnston's former team, the New York Red Bulls, while the Houston Dynamo face the tournament's host, the Charleston Battery of the United Soccer Leagues' first division.

Toronto opened the tournament last Saturday with a 2-0 loss to Houston.

Despite the score Johnston was pleased with his team's performance in its first game against an MLS squad, especially since Houston spent the winter playing against other pro teams in the CONCACAF Champions Cup.

Midfielder Carl Robinson will join the squad after finishing a stint with the Welsh national team. Johnston added that several young players like North York's Richard Asante have impressed him.

"It's always fun to see the young guys step up to the plate," Johnston said. "They've handled the situation and I'm pleased by that."

Houston coach Dominic Kinnear is eager to see what happens when Robinson and other veterans finally take the field for Toronto.

"It's hard to judge by one game, but looking at the players they have, they're an expansion team in name only," Kinnear said. "Looking at their roster, I think they're a playoff team."

NOTES: Injured Maurice Edu resumed intense running yesterday, but Mo Johnston says it's still not clear when the midfielder will return to action. ... Johnston said he wants to sign at least one more overseas player before the March 31 deadline. ... Togolese striker Abbe Ibrahim is playing for Toronto this week but still doesn't have a contract. He can't sign until his visa problems are settled and Johnston isn't sure when that will happen. ... CSA president Colin Linford says the national team won't have a full-time coach for at least three more weeks. Linford said the CSA can't hire a coach until the board of directors meets and approves the move, and the CSA's board won't meet again until April 21.

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