March 19, 2009 Kansas City vs Toronto FC pregame story (from MLSnet.com)
Toronto FC eager to get 2009 underway
Charged by new additions, Reds aiming to start season strong
By Mark Polishuk / MLSnet.com Staff
TORONTO -- After four and a half months of anticipation for the new season to begin, Toronto FC takes to the pitch for their First Kick '09 matchup in Kansas City on Saturday. As far as midfielder Carl Robinson is concerned, the game can't come quickly enough.
"It's gonna be their home opener, they're going to be buzzing but so are we," Robinson said. "We've waited a long time for this now, the players are raring to go as much as the fans are."
The additions of players like Dwayne De Rosario, Adrian Serioux and Pablo Vitti have brought a fresh air of enthusiasm to a club that finished just four points out of a playoff spot in 2008. These new faces combined with the team's core roster have convinced many fans and pundits that the Reds are ready to take the next step and reach the postseason for the first time in the club's three-year history.
TFC's 5-2 record in full-squad preseason matches just added to the excitement, especially the team's strong showing in the Carolina Challenge Cup. Toronto defeated Charleston and D.C. United to set up a winner-take-all final game against Real Salt Lake last Saturday, but two early goals allowed doomed the Reds to a 2-1 defeat.
While Toronto head coach John Carver was disappointed to lose the chance at the team's first cup, he also felt that the loss might help the team's work ethic in the long run.
"Everybody was getting a bit carried away, players and fans, because we were going to win everything in sight," Carver said. "But it brought everybody back down to earth a little bit ... it takes away that complacency. It isn't a bad thing. It may have happened just at the right time."
With the preseason schedule completed, TFC jumps right into the fire with an important road match against an Eastern Conference rival. The Reds have won just four games away from BMO Field over their first two seasons, and Carver said that better away form is crucial to any playoff chances that his club might harbor.
Case in point: TFC's last visit to Kansas City, on Sept. 20, 2008. The Reds were desperately trying to stay afloat in the playoff race, but couldn't even manage a shot on goal at CommunityAmerica Ballpark in a disappointing 2-0 loss to the Wizards.
With the new players and training regiment in place, however, striker Chad Barrett said that last September's game against K.C. is a distant memory.
"That's the best thing about sports, there's always next year," Barrett said. "We have a new team. I don't think there's anything from last year that we should carry over."
This was Barrett's first preseason camp with Toronto, after arriving in a midseason trade from Chicago last year. The four-year MLS veteran had nothing but praise for the experience, particularly with the amount of actual field time.
"New team, some new coaches, new way of thinking ... I like it," Barrett said. "It's all soccer ... almost everything was with the ball and that's what it should be. The only way you're going to get soccer finish is by playing soccer."
Fitness, under the guidance of strength and conditioning coach Paul Winsper, was a key component of the training camp. The Reds had a bit better luck with player health in 2008 than they did during the injury-riddled 2007 campaign, but for a team that was punished by a lack of depth last season, the onus will be on the players and training staff to keep everyone as healthy as possible.
"Paul Winsper has had a massive, massive say [at camp]," Robinson said. "The boys are as fit as they have been. It's opened a few people's eyes about how hard you have to work to get into tip-top shape, but I think the boys have done it very well. They're committed themselves to getting fit."
One injury, however, has kept Carver from finalizing his starting XI for the Kansas City game. Central defender Adrian Serioux left last Saturday's RSL match with a shoulder injury, and Carver said that he doesn't want to rush the newly-acquired Canadian international back too soon.
"[Serioux] was injured when he came to us, he had that hernia operation ... so he was behind the rest of the group," Carver said. "He's been working very hard since he's come through the door but you have to be careful. You don't want to overcook him. I've got to make the decision whether he's going to be right to play on Saturday. ... If he's fit, he'll play, it's as simple as that. If he's not, I won't take a risk with him."
Carver gave no other hints about what the rest of his first team lineup would look like, though the coach noted that the very fact that he had made the decision days before the first game is a positive step. "I have played around with things in preseason and again this morning, but now I know what my team is going to be," he said. "This time last year I didn't have a clue who would be starting, so it shows how much progress we have made."
The coach also provided an update on another injured player, Nana Attakora-Gyan. The defender suffered a hip flexor strain last week while playing for Canada in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, and Carver said the injury could keep Attakora-Gyan sidelined for a while.
"With hip flexors you're talking three, four, five weeks," Carver said. "It just depends on the severity of it. He's got for a scan today, so once we know what grade it is we'll be able to give you more information."
All of the excitement of the team headed into the new season brings with it greater expectations, and even a sense that both management and roster changes could be on the way should TFC fail to reach the postseason. This type of pressure is a new experience for the Reds, but Robinson feels that the club will be able to live up to the challenge.
"Results-wise you've got to improve every year. If you aren't then the soccer club isn't progressing," Robinson said. "The players coming in have built the quality up and with that comes a little bit of pressure because you need to perform and get results.
"We're ready to go now. The talk has stopped, you've got to show up and show what you can do on the weekend."
Mark Polishuk is a contributor to MLSnet.com.
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