Toronto FC officially opened its pre-season training camp this past weekend, and Monday was the first opportunity for local reporters to attend practice, and talk to coach Greg Vanney and GM Tim Bezbatchenko and a select few players about the 2016 Major League Soccer campaign.
For the first time in a very long time, there was no controversy or drama at the start of TFC’s training camp; no major discord, lingering questions or growing concerns about the club ahead of the start of the season.
Here are some news and notes that came out of camp on Monday morning as the team practised at its Downsview training facility…
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Pre-season plans: LA and Orlando
Toronto FC will travel to Los Angeles on Wednesday and will train at the University of California, Irvine. While there, TFC will play friendlies against UC Irvine, California State Fullerton, Ventura County Fusion and the LA Galaxy.
TFC returns home on Feb. 8 and then departs for Orlando where they’ll conclude pre-season from Feb. 14-28. They are expected to play more friendlies in Florida.
Toronto FC opens the 2016 regular season on March 6 away to the New York Red Bulls. The Reds will be on the road for their first eight games of the year due to ongoing construction at BMO Field before playing their home opener on May 7 vs. FC Dallas.
Luke Moore not it camp
Luke Moore is currently not in camp with TFC, as the veteran forward is training in England with Aston Villa, one of his former clubs. Moore has a guaranteed contract with Toronto for 2016, but both Vanney and Bezbatchenko hinted that he might not be back this season as the club finalizes its roster ahead of the start of the regular season.
“We’ll see how this plays out over the next few weeks,” Vanney said.
The transfer window closes in a few days, which doesn’t give TFC much time to sell him off. Moore made $235,500 US last season, a sizeable contract for a player with just one goal in 2015 and in a league with a salary cap of $3.66 million. According to sources the club is not roster compliant at the moment and will have to make squad cuts by March 2. Considering how the team has already used its one buyout (on Ahmed Kantari) it’ll be interesting to see whether Moore returns or if TFC manages to somehow offload him.
With this in mind, both Bezbatchenko and Vanney stated the roster is “virtually set” for 2016 and that they don’t expect to make major roster additions prior to the start of the regular season.
Bradley, Altidore and Johnson away with national teams
Captain Michael Bradley and forward Jozy Altidore are currently not in camp as they are with the U.S. national team. Also absent from camp is new midfielder Will Johnson, who is with the Canadian national team.
Canada plays the U.S. in a friendly in Carson, California on February 5. Vanney said the trio will join TFC camp in LA immediately after the U.S.-Canada match.
Seba at Euro 2016?
Aside from losing Bradley and Altidore during the Copa America to be held in the U.S. from June 3-26, TFC could also be missing Giovinco during Euro 2016, which runs from June 10 to July 10 in France.
Giovinco was called up by the Italian national team for a pair of Euro qualifiers in October, and chances are good that he will be called up by Azzurri manager Antonio Conte for Euro 2016.
“I haven’t spoken directly with [Conte] recently but in order to be part of the squad for Euro I have to play very well in Toronto. If I do that, then I’m confident I will merit a spot and that I’ll be called into the Italian team,” Giovinco said through a translator.
8 points not a “hard” target
At the end of last season newly-installed club president Bill Manning publically set a target for the team to earn eight points through its first eight games of the 2016 campaign. That puts a lot of pressure on Vanney to succeed coming right out of the gate, but Manning offered no apologies for setting that specific benchmark.
“It comes with the job. We all have the pressure. There’s nothing wrong with setting goals,” Manning said at the time.
However, Bezbatchenko on Monday indicated that less than eight points earned through the opening eight games might not necessarily result in Vanney being fired.
“Everyone wants hard-line rules in place so that everyone in the market can hold people accountable. When you have a significant challenge like having eight games on the road you want to know at the tail end of where you are,” Bezbatchenko said.
“If we’re not at eight points [then] what will we do? We’ll evaluate it. Some of it depends on how the games were played; did the ball bounce our way? I don’t think we take such a short-term view on anything but I think it’s important set goals and try to communicate those goals throughout the entire club.”
TFC II players making the jump
A number of players from TFC II, the Reds’ USL affiliate and developmental club, trained with the senior team on Monday, and some will make the trip to LA as part of the side’s pre-season preparation.
Vanney didn’t rule out the possibility of current members of TFC II graduating to the first team for the 2016 MLS season.
“It’s possible,” Vanney said. “I really like the progress that a number of guys are making. This is a big year for Jordan Hamilton, and Chris Mannella is going into his second full year as a pro.”
“I’ve heard people talk about how [TFC was] defensively last year. It’s a new team this year.’’ – New defender Drew Moor
“[He’s] as reliable as they come in my opinion. I’ve been with Clint for the past three seasons—he just has that attitude that like he’s got something to prove.” – Moor on former Colorado teammate and new TFC goalkeeper Clint Irwin
“[I want to] help really bring down these 58 goals [conceded by TFC in 2015] to something reasonable and competitive.” – New defender Steven Beitashour
“It’s tough for me to say as a 26-year old, but it’s something that as a goalkeeper I know I’d be looking for that older goalkeeper to show the way and lead by example, and impart any wisdom. It’s important to leave an impression on the people you play with.” – Irwin on mentoring young backup goalkeepers Alex Bono and Quillan Roberts
“We [didn’t] need wholesale changes. We [didn’t] need to go out and sign a fourth designated player or look to make 10 changes.” – Bezbatchenko on the team’s off-season moves
“I think we’ve moved on but I don’t think we ever should forget it. I truly believe you have to remember and use your failures and use your losses to learn to improve. … We’ll never forget that loss against our rival. I think it needs to live in us, and drive us every day.” – Bezbatchenko on the playoff loss to Montreal
Sportsnet soccer reporter John Molinaro will have more on Toronto FC tomorrow on Sportsnet.ca