Avila stepping into a leadership role for Toronto FC

Eric Avila de Toronto FC

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TORONTO – At just 24 years old, attacking midfielder Eric Avila is already entering his fifth MLS season. That makes him a veteran and a leader – even if he doesn't think he fully deserves the stripes just yet.

“I don’t see myself as that,” Avila said earlier in training camp before the team left for preseason camp in Orlando. “I’d like to play more games and be more experienced in a way.”

But Avila has already shown some mentoring chops, helping players with less experience such as midfielder and friend Luis Silva – a fellow UC Santa Barbara product who was drafted by TFC in last month's SuperDraft – feel at ease as soon as he arrived for preseason training. Primarily, Avila schooled Silva in head coach Aron Winter's 4-3-3 setup.

“We spent a good time at the hotel talking about formations and I had to draw it all up,” Avila said. “It was good, it eased him up. I think he’s a good player and he just had to ease up.”

Said Silva, “He’s been talking to me a lot and he’s been telling me what  the coach likes, how he likes things to get done and stuff like that."

Avila just sees it as a natural progression because of the way others reached out to him when he arrived at FC Dallas in 2008.

“Anything I can do just to help out,” he said. “I know when I came in, all the players were helping me out.”

Avila and Silva have quickly developed good chemistry at training camp.

“They just seem to be keying off of each other, they’re very good friends,” TFC director of player development Paul Mariner told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday by phone. “They seem to be working really hard and they seem to be motivating each other.”

Avila feels more familiar with Toronto FC himself since arriving Aug. 2 in a trade that sent forward Maicon Santos to Dallas as part of last year’s midseason renovation process. He played nine games, eight of them starts, and scored one goal with TFC after scoring one goal in 13 games with FCD.

Naturally, Avilla is disappointed that he is ineligible for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal that opens March 7 at Rogers Centre. Avila is cap-tied to Dallas, meaning he'll miss the home-and-home series against the LA Galaxy.

“It’s a shame because he’s training really well,” Mariner said.

Instead, Avila's gearing up to contribute to what Toronto hope will be their first trip to the MLS Cup Playoffs in franchise history.

“I’m trying to stamp my name on something,” Avila said. “I’m trying to do something and help as much as possible. Hopefully this year I can break out in a way where I can help as much as possible and continue with my career.”