TORONTO – Toronto FC have been searching for leadership on the backline, someone who will take charge of a young unit that's had its struggles over the past two seasons.
Head coach Paul Mariner feels he's found the man for the job in former Celtic center back Darren O’Dea. The Irish international, who himself is only 25 years old, is nonetheless experienced, not to mention undaunted by the assignment – after all, he's accustomed to the role.
“I just think it’s something that comes naturally to me,” O'Dea said on Wednesday after his first training session with his new team at Downsview Park. “I’ve captained most teams I’ve played in and maybe something the team has lacked is a little bit of leadership. Hopefully, I can bring that. There’s plenty of talent here, you can see that straightaway.”
Mariner is happy to have him
“He’s the leader that we need,” the TFC boss said. “As soon as we blew the whistle to start practice, you could hear his booming voice, and that’s exactly what we need.”
The veteran leadership should help the Reds, who have been going with a young backline for a large part of the season.
WATCH: O'Dea discusses first full training session
“The young guys are a little reticent to voice their opinions at times because it’s all about experience,” Mariner said. “You just can’t put experience into a player. In professional football, it’s an extremely fast learning curve because if you’re a repeat offender the coach becomes wary of playing you. We’ve addressed some points, we spoke about some things today and I think we’re in a good frame of mind.”
Mariner said that O’Dea will likely play Saturday when Toronto head south to Columbus (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“My adrenaline might get me through – I’m desperate to start playing,” O’Dea said. “[I'm not sure] whether I’m 100 percent match fit. I’ve not trained since the end of the European Championship in the middle of June.”
O’Dea said he was convinced to play for Toronto because it is a relatively new team and he was impressed by the facilities and by the people in the organization.
“I’ve been in Scotland and England for 10 years – since I was 15 – and I wanted something fresh,” he said. “When I came over to look at the place I was 50-50. The people probably were the biggest part of it. I’m not coming here as an older player hoping to pick up a last paycheck.”
He said his new league plays a style that he is familiar with from playing in England, where he played on loan for Reading, Ipswich Town and Leeds United.
“It’s similar to the Championship that I played in last year,” O'Dea noted. “It’s quite a quickly paced league and teams can be direct and well-organized and that’s mostly what you come against in England.”
O'Dea certainly has a busy week ahead of him. After the game in Columbus he will join the Republic of Ireland team that will play an international friendly against Serbia in Belgrade on Wednesday, which means he will miss next Wednesday’s game against Portland.