TORONTO –- The voice was commanding and booming, and so loud that you could hear it from 50 yards away, even with the sound of an airplane flying overhead.
Darren O’Dea was in his natural element bossing the defence during Toronto FC’s practice on Wednesday, the first time the Irish centre back trained since signing with the club late last week.
The average person tends to keep to themselves and doesn’t say too much on their first day at a new job. O’Dea can’t afford to be so timid. The 25-year-old was brought in by TFC, who have the second-worst defensive record in Major League Soccer with 40 goals against, to help organize and quarterback the back line.
O’Dea wasted little time in asserting himself during Wednesday’s training session, shouting out instructions to his new teammates (especially Canadian teenager Doneil Henry), and speaking to his fellow defenders one-on-one in between drills.
It’s clear that O’Dea has already taken a leadership role in defence, and that’s exactly what the club wants and needs from him.
“It comes natural to me. I’ve captained most teams I’ve played in. It’s something that this team has lacked, a little bit of leadership, and hopefully I can bring it,” O’Dea told reporters.
TFC coach Paul Mariner was impressed with how O’Dea took instant command.
“He’s a leader and that’s we need. As soon as I blew the whistle to start the practice you could hear his booming voice,” Mariner stated.
In the past, MLS has proven to be a difficult for some foreign players to adapt to, especially because of the physical nature of play. But O’Dea feels the league is similar to the Championship in that regard, and his time spent with Reading, Ipswich Town and Leeds United in the English second division will serve him well in MLS.
“I’m quite dominant and aggressive. I’ll run through brick walls if I have to,” O’Dea stated bluntly.
In O’Dea, TFC is getting a player in his prime years, not someone who is the wrong side of 30 and has come to MLS looking to extend their fleeting career. Still, the Irishman expects to grow into the role that Mariner has routinely described as the “boss man” at the back.
“I think one thing that’s good for the club is I’m only 25. I have my best years still ahead of me,” O’Dea said. “I have experience even though I’m quite young so I’m still learning and the manager will help me in that respect.”
It was only after the club flew O’Dea to Toronto for a face-to-face meeting that he decided to sign with the Reds. O’Dea claimed he had offers from other teams across Europe, but once he visited Toronto and saw the team’s setup, he decided to pack his bags and move to Canada.
“When I came over to see the place I was 50/50, it wasn’t like it was coming to sign. But when I saw the place and what the club has to offer and the people involved, I made up my mind,” O’Dea explained.
“I’m not coming here as an older player picking up a last pay cheque. I’m coming here to do things with the club.”
TFC visits the Columbus Crew on Saturday, and Mariner said he would have no qualms about giving O’Dea his first MLS start, even though he’s not quite match fit.
“I’m desperate to start playing. … I’ve not trained since the end of the European Championships in the middle of June,” O’Dea admitted.
O’Dea was part of Ireland’s squad at Euro 2012 but he did not dress for any of the side’s three group-stage games.
However, O’Dea is firmly in Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s plans. He will play for his country in a friendly against Serbia in Belgrade on Aug. 15, which means he’ll miss the Reds’ home game against the Portland Timbers that same day.
TFC fans should get used to O’Dea missing MLS matches from time to time due to international duty.
“It’s part of (MLS’s) downfall for international players in that there’s no break. Normally there’s a break so you wouldn’t miss anything. It’s not going to be ideal missing (the Portland) game because I wanted to be involved,” O’Dea said.
Very much of the periphery of the Irish first team, O’Dea could fight his way into the starting lineup with consistent and quality performance in MLS. With that in mind, he sought Trapattoni’s advice when considering TFC’s offer and the Italian manager encouraged him to go to MLS.
“I’m young and only have 14 caps and I want plenty more so it was important to get his blessing,” O’Dea said.
NOTES: Some new players trained with the team Wednesday: English defender Paul Robinson (formerly of Bolton), Mexican centre back Diego Cervantes, and Bermudian forward Antwan Russell. Mariner said all three are on trial with the Reds but the club is nowhere near close to signing any of them… Danny Koevermans told sportsnet.ca that he will undergo surgery next week in Toronto. The Dutch forward tore his ACL last month, ruling him out for the remainder of the season… Right back Jeremy Hall (ankle injury) did not train with the team Wednesday. Mariner said Hall will be out for the next two weeks…