TORONTO – This is a different kind of preseason for Toronto FC goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
The head coach is the same as the previous year, as Aron Winter has returned to the TFC bench. Beside him is Bob de Klerk, his lead assistant who retained his role from 2011.
Frei even looks around the dressing room and sees familiar faces, lots of them.
“I think it’s a good preseason because it’s the first one where we have over 10 players returning,” a grinning Frei told reporters on Thursday. “There’s a bit of consistency where you see familiar faces in the locker room, which is a nice thing. This is our job, but ultimately you have to have good relationships with your co-workers. And it’s good to have people here for longer than just a couple of months.”
At 25, Frei is beginning his fourth season in Toronto, making him the club’s longest-tenured player.
“I think guys were anxious to come back and see their friends again and get back in the swing of things,” Frei said of the atmosphere in camp. “I think that’s the main difference and why everybody is excited here.”
In a recurring theme, the Reds open their sixth season still seeking their first appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs. In a departure from previous years, there is a core of players in place going into training camp. For once, the process of putting a roster together won’t be carried into the regular season.
“I think this is the first time where we’re actually pretty set to go in the preseason,” Frei said. “Most of the time, the preseason was there to kind of get a lot of the pieces still fitted or found and added to the roster.”
There is, however, one change for Frei: He and fellow ‘keeper Milos Kocic will be working with a different goalkeeper coach.
Stewart Kerr, who played much of his career with Celtic of the Scottish Premier League, has taken over from Mike Toshack after he left TFC in the offseason to join the Portland Timbers.
“Tosh has done a great job the three years that I was here and I’m very thankful for all the contributions he has made,” Frei said. “I think we’re in good hands with Stewart. We just had our first taste of what his sessions are like. And he hits a good ball, I can tell you that.”
Frei said the important thing for a ‘keeper coach is communicating and Kerr does that.
“I think goalkeepers are a bit of a different breed,” Frei said. “You train differently as well. You have a closer relationship with a ‘keeper coach. He needs to listen to your feedback and he needs to give you good feedback. He is that type of guy and obviously has had a great career himself.”