TORONTO – Center back Darren O’Dea could have played for the Republic of Ireland in their friendly against Poland on Wednesday, but he was granted permission to stay with Toronto FC as they continued their preseason training in Orlando.
O’Dea, 26, figured it would be better to continue to work on his fitness, admitting to Toronto FC TV that playing Wednesday “probably would have been a game too soon.”
He will play for Ireland in the World Cup qualifiers next month, but first he wants to have a full preseason with Toronto, during which he can work with a revamped back four.
Cohesion at the back was one of many issues for the Reds last season, when they conceded a league-high 62 goals.
“You need a settled back four that play week in and week out and know each other,” O’Dea told MLSsoccer.com in Toronto before the team left for Florida. “Over preseason hopefully we’ll get to know each other and come the start of the season, we’ll be a solid team.”
O’Dea was signed in Augst to help an unsettled defense, and then TFC reached into the Re-Entry Draft to add another experienced center back in Danny Califf.
That means that Richard Eckersley, who was used as center back at times last year, will return to right back. With Canadian international Ashtone Morgan at left back, Toronto should enter the season with a stable starting back line.
But will the talent meet the demands of new president and general manager Kevin Payne, who is expecting a change in attitude if TFC hope to escape the MLS doldrums?
“I’m starting to understand and the president [Kevin Payne] has touched on it, the culture and the mentality” O’Dea said. “I’ve spoken about mentality before. People think it’s just a word but it’s a very important thing. You can have all the ability in the world, but last season you saw when you concede goals that late on it’s not coincidence. It’s people aren’t strong enough. Mentally they’re not strong enough.”
Toronto conceded 24 goals in the final 30 minutes of league games last year and 16 of them came in the final 15 minutes.
“It’s now time that the way things are around the squad change, and it already has changed,” O’Dea said. “And it will continue to change, and once it does success will follow.”