April 5, 2007 Toronto FC rated by player Alecko Eskandarian (from Globe and Mail)

POSTED ON: 05/04/07
Toronto no expansion weakling, forward Eskandarian says
LARRY MILLSON

From Friday's Globe and Mail

TORONTO Alecko Eskandarian played his first four Major League Soccer seasons with D.C. United, which last year had the best regular-season record.

The Toronto FC forward remembers playing in 2005 against two expansion teams, Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA, his new team's opponent Saturday night in Toronto's first game.

Toronto FC is the expansion team this year, but from what he has seen so far, Eskandarian feels this is a better team than the new teams of 2005.

"Obviously, we're going to have to prove it with our results and with our play," Eskandarian said. "But from playing against Chivas and Salt Lake in their expansion seasons to training with these guys day in and day out, I could say we're definitely ahead of them."

Chivas USA finished the 2005 season at 4-22, with six ties, and Real Salt Lake was 5-22-5. There were 32 games in a season then and that has changed this year to 30.

Both teams improved last season, with Chivas USA 10-9-13 and Real Salt Lake 10-13-9.

Toronto FC does have its injury problems. Forward Conor Casey has been hampered for much of training camp with injuries. And a knee injury suffered on Tuesday that is expected to keep midfielder Ronnie O'Brien out from four to six weeks creates a big gap in the lineup.

Not only is O'Brien a good player, but he has MLS experience with FC Dallas, which makes him a valuable resource to the many players on the team who will be in their first year in the league.

The loss hurts Eskandarian because not only are they friends, but O'Brien passed to him to set up two goals in exhibition games last week.

"I think he's had the assist on all my goals in preseason," Eskandarian said.

Familiarity helps on an expansion team because it takes time for players drawn from different places to come together. Eskandarian and another forward, Edson Buddle, can provide that league experience as well as familiarity. Buddle played five seasons with the Columbus Crew and last season with the New York Red Bulls.

"I've known Eddie since I was 14 years old," Eskandarian said. "So it's no stranger next to me or anything like that."

Because of his years in the league, Eskandarian, 24, said he is able to give scouting reports on some of the players he has played against, as well as some other information.

"It's necessary," he said. "Any information that I know, I have to pass on to these guys because a lot of them have no idea who they are playing against. In that aspect, we're at a disadvantage."

He wouldn't speculate on how Toronto FC will do this season, but in an overall assessment of the league, he rated D.C. United at the top.

"I think just the system that they have, and they've had a core group of players for four or five years now," he said. "Until they drop off and lose a bunch of games, you have to put them on top. And Houston [Dynamo] is the defending champion, so you have to put them on top as well."

Houston is in the Western Conference and finished second last season before winning the playoffs. D.C. United won the Eastern Conference last year, but lost to the New England Revolution in the Eastern final. D.C. United have won the MLS Cup four times. Their most recent championship was in 2004, when Eskandarian was the MLS Cup most valuable player.

In 2005, Eskandarian, who is from Montvale, N.J., was limited to 12 games because of postconcussion syndrome, but came back strong last year.

Toronto FC enters its first season sure to have good crowds at the new BMO Field. Season ticket sales were cut off at 14,000 last month for the 20,000-seat stadium.

With a FieldTurf playing surface, it will be one of four stadiums in the MLS to have artificial turf, and it will be one of seven stadiums in the league built specifically for soccer.

And the playing surface?

"It's okay," Eskandarian said. "It's very similar to Giants Stadium [at the Meadowlands in New Jersey]. It's not ideal. Obviously, everyone would like to have grass. The only good thing is that it, sboth teams have to deal with o you can't really complain about it."

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