TORONTO – In the midst of all the facts, figures and multimedia presentations, it was a simple smile from Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment COO Tom Anselmi that really told the story as Toronto FC on Monday unveiled plans for a near-$20 million training facility for the TFC Academy.
With video of academy graduate Oscar Cordon being interviewed being shown on the big screen, Anselmi turned to look at the 18-year-old who had made his MLS debut just last week. The pride on Anselmi’s face was clear. It was one thing to talk about the potential of the academy, quite another to see it sitting across a room wearing TFC red.
“Today is a good day,” Anselmi said. “It’s a great day for our club, but more importantly it’s a great day for soccer in Canada.”
Pointing to the five TFC players that have already graduated to the senior team, Anselmi suggested that the investment today would lead to more Cordons in the future.
“Toronto FC and the Canadian national teams represent the top of our aspirational pyramid not only in Toronto, but across the country,” he said. “We now have a homegrown solution for the future Jimmy Brennans and Julian de Guzmans to hone their craft and become professionals.”
The facility will be located at Downsview Park, located 10.7 miles north of BMO Field on the site of a former Canadian military base. It will feature three full sized grass pitches, along with a covered FieldTurf facility, goalkeeper training pitch, office space and several multi-use pitches. It will be part of a massive redevelopment of the site, which will see it turned into a hub of elite sports development.
The total investment will be almost $20 million, with work set to begin soon. According to TFC assistant coach Bob de Klerk (at right), that commitment was one of the reasons the former Ajax man came to North America.
“They are bringing the same facility from Ajax to Toronto, so that’s nice for me,” he joked.
However, de Klerk was not laughing as he brought out props to demonstrate the benefits of an inclusive academy system.
Putting the traditional numbers for positions (central midfielder as No. 10, center forward as No. 9, etc), on a coaching board, de Klerk talked about the need for players to understand their position on the pitch inside and out. That, de Klerk said, comes from training over years and years.
“I see all these numbers over here – No. 43, No. 19,” he said. “No, that’s not what we want. I want it to be so that when the coach says, ‘You are going to play the No. 4,’ that the player knows exactly what that means.”
TFC plan on running at least five full-time academy teams – perhaps going as young as U-10 – and expand that pyramid down to as young as U-6 through up to 30 affiliate clubs in the Greater Toronto Area.