April 19, 2007 Toronto FC after 0-2 start (from Toronto Star)

TFC is looking at bright side of field

Hopes remain high despite rough start

Apr 19, 2007 04:30 AM
Cathal Kelly

Two games, two losses and no goals scored? You wouldn't know it at BMO Field.

The members of Toronto FC were there the other day, greeting the media, flashing smiles, pressing flesh, just about everything short of kissing babies. They might have kissed babies if anyone had bothered to bring one.

Despite the early failures, the mood was upbeat and buoyant. The players said they were excited and actually looked excited.

There's a homey, refreshingly easygoing feel about this group skilled men playing their game without benefit of giant paycheques or the glaring spotlight. Many come from a very different environment big clubs, big leagues, big pressure.

"That's the change in lifestyle," said midfielder Carl Robinson, who has played under the microscope for sides like Portsmouth and Sunderland.

"In England, it's a known thing. If you don't play well on Saturday, you can't go out on Saturday night. Saturday nights there are no-go areas. Even Sunday mornings, you get people in the supermarket asking you what happened. Over here, people will tend to walk by you. You're normal. That's what I wanted all my life."

Once Robinson starts having to explain his ball distribution at the meat counter in Loblaws, we'll know soccer has arrived in this town.

So far, we have a group of 20-odd young men (players seem to come and go every other day) learning to play with each other. The camaraderie seems high.

Midfielder Ronnie O'Brien, still in the midst of recovery from injury, stalked Robinson around the media room, tormenting him with pinches every time a camera light went on.

The team could really use some of that manic energy on the pitch.

The playing cohesion seems a ways off yet. Thus far, FC has looked good for 45 of their 180 minutes played the first half of their opening 2-0 loss to Chivas. Things looked like an unmitigated disaster in the second game. The New England Revolution surged around and through FC's shaky 3-5-2 at will, piercing the shaky rearguard for four goals.

Coach Mo Johnston's answer this week has been another round of additions. One of them is English journeyman Daniele Dichio. Meanwhile, Johnston's former team in New York was unwrapping sublime Colombian forward Juan Pablo Angel. The comparison between Dichio and Angel speaks volumes about the ambition of the two sides.

Johnston's right when he says he's only had a few months to put this team together. He's playing a system he doesn't like because he doesn't have the manpower to play the 4-4-2. The personnel is in steady flux and there are already injury woes. Their new home is still being built around them.

Each of them makes a decent excuse for why the club hasn't shown much yet.

Johnston has made it clear that with the BMO Field's season tickets sold out, FC feels no pressure to use its designated player option to buy a game breaker.

"Of course, we'll do it," Johnston said, adding that he has "three or four" names in mind already. "But we'll bring it in for next year."

Just about the first thing out of Johnston's and his players' mouths is the sold-out stadium.

"We've proved it with ticket sales. The market's here," Canadian captain Jim Brennan said. "We've just got to do it on the field."

That's the crux of it right there the danger of confusing a packed stand with a successful team. In the end, nothing will succeed for this club like success on the pitch.

FC is riding a high right now. The novelty and their enthusiasm have earned them a certain amount of leeway with the fans.

The bulk of that buffer will hold until Aug. 5 the day David Beckham arrives in town.

By Aug. 6, a hapless franchise is going to be just that. No more new car smell, no more mulligans for giving it your all.

A win, or at least a couple of goals, would go a long way to repay the faith a lot of people in this town have already placed in the new soccer club.

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