Florida seems to agree with Aron Winter.
Toronto FC’s Dutch coach looked and sounded perfectly relaxed Monday afternoon after his team practised for the first time since returning home from pre-season training camp in Orlando.
The Reds open the Major League Soccer season on May 17 in Seattle but before then they face David Beckham and the LA Galaxy Wednesday evening in the first leg of their CONACAF Champions League quarter-final.
Winter insists the two weeks the club spent in Florida, where it participated in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic competition, provided the proper preparation for this crucial Champions League contest.
“We had a great training camp there. We practised well, we had some friendly games and we played in a tournament. Overall we are ready for the game on Wednesday,” Winter told reporters.
Still, questions remain about just how prepared the Reds are compared to the Galaxy. Toronto played six games in Florida since Feb. 17, and two of them were against university teams. LA, meanwhile, played nine games last month, all but one of them against an MLS opponent.
TFC’s last match was Saturday in the final of the Disney Classic against the Vancouver Whitecaps, and Winter fielded a squad made up almost entirely of academy players and only one regular starter.
Using a full-strength side against Vancouver would have given his starters some valuable playing time in a competitive situation ahead of the LA game. However, the Dutch coach has no regrets, explaining that he planned to play the kids if TFC reached the final before they even headed down to Florida.
“When you have a big game like Wednesday, the quarter-final of CONCACAF, and being away for a long time, with the (different) climate and the travel, you want to be focused on the game and (ensure) everybody we’re going to play on Wednesday are fit,” Winter stated.
One of the players who caught Winter’s eye in pre-season was top draft pick Luis Silva. The UC Santa Barbara midfielder, selected fourth overall in January’s draft, won praise from the coaching staff for his performances that showed poise and maturity beyond his 23 years of age.
Dutch forward Danny Koevermans was so impressed with Silva that he told the youngster if plays like that the entire upcoming MLS season that TFC could conceivably sell him to an overseas club next year.
A Los Angeles native, Silva admitted the Galaxy was his childhood team but “not any more” with Wednesday’s match looming. Silva could very well make his professional debut against LA, especially with fellow midfielders Eric Avila (cup tied) and Julian de Guzman (suspension) unavailable. Midfielder Nick Soolsma is also suspended.
“It would be a dream come true for me. I followed those guys on TV during my college years and earlier, (so) having the chance to play (against) them is going to be a great experience,” Silva said.
As the team’s midfield pivot, de Guzman’s absence will be felt. Winter stated he has other options to fill that spot, but stopped short of saying who exactly would play in de Guzman’s place.
There’s a lot of hype going into this match, especially with the Beckham and the Galaxy who, lest we forget, are the defending league champions.
Playing before big crowds is nothing new to Koevermans, having spent the earlier part of his career in Europe. He’s given the younger players on the team one simple piece of advice.
“Enjoy it. This is going to be the only time that TFC is going to play at Rogers Centre in front of (a big crowd) .. it’s going to be the biggest home crowd ever, so just enjoy the game and go out there and get a good result,” Koevermans said.