TORONTO – About this time last year, Toronto FC opened training camp in turmoil. On Monday, the Reds opened their 2012 camp, and things are a bit different this time around.
“We were flying about all over the shop and we just didn’t have a minute to breathe,” TFC director of player development Paul Mariner recalled on Monday to MLSsoccer.com. “This year, everything is highly organized and we’re really looking forward to it.”
Mariner, head coach and technical director Aron Winter and assistant coach Bob de Klerk were hired last year on Jan. 6, and were instantly embroiled in stabilizing a club that had fired both their general manager and head coach four months prior.
As if that weren’t enough, negotiations with Dwayne De Rosario over the midfielder’s salary had soured beyond repair. He was traded to the New York Red Bulls on April 1.
“Aron and Bob must have wondered what they walked into because it was very difficult,” Mariner said. “It was an organizational nightmare. I must say that the staff was fantastic.”
A year later, and it's been night and day. Camp opened on Monday with 40 players, including some Academy team members who are being given a taste of what it is like with the first team, being put through physical testing.
“One of the most important things is the locker room and the locker room is happy,” Mariner said. “You could see that today. The boys were having some fun. … Aron addressed the group and set out some parameters. The first day of camp has been a happy day at camp.”
Mariner feels TFC are a better team than they were a year ago, but was cautious in making a definitive appraisal.
“We sincerely hope so,” he said. “We think so, but until a ball is kicked in anger you don’t really know."
More than 35,000 sold for CCL quarters
Although Toronto FC again missed the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2011, they showed improvement after midseason changes – specifically the addition of Designated Players Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans. A 3-0 away win over FC Dallas on Oct. 18, probably TFC’s best performance of the season, put the Reds through to the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals for the first time.
Toronto will play their home leg of the quarterfinal against the LA Galaxy on March 7 under the retractable roof of the Rogers Centre, opting for temperature-regulated comfort instead of the open air of BMO Field. By last Friday, the club reported that more than 35,000 tickets had been sold for the game.
“It’s going to be fantastic event,” Mariner said, though admitted that he was in favor of subjecting the Galaxy to the cold of a Canadian winter at BMO.