TFC notebook: Roster cuts coming as camp rolls on

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber talks about the incredible growth of the league in recent years, the chance of expansion in Canada, and the possibility of a Canadian or American bid to host the World Cup.

After being away for 10 days in California, Toronto FC was back practising on home soil on Wednesday as it enters the final stages of its pre-season training camp.

Here are some news and notes from today’s training session…

Reds return home

Coach Greg Vanney said the team worked hard when they were out in California, as they held “two-a-day” training sessions and played several exhibition games, mostly against college sides.

The LA stint also gave Vanney the chance to evaluate players—guys on trial, draft picks and members of the TFC 2 farm club—who are looking to earn a roster spot ahead of the start of the regular season in the first week of March.

“Some of the young guys have come in and shown that they’re capable. I still think most of them are going to need time to adapt to the speed of the game, and the opponents we played [in LA] were not MLS calibre by any stretch, so that’s another test as we go on to the next [phase of training camp],” Vanney offered.

Off to Florida next, roster cuts coming

TFC leaves next Monday for Orlando where it will stage the fourth leg of its pre-season and play several exhibition games against MLS teams.

Approximately 37 players are in training camp—again, including players under contract trailists, draft picks and TFC 2 prospects—with most of them having made the trip to California.

With the regular season less than a month away, Vanney plans on making some cuts this week, and will likely bring around 30 players to Orlando.

“We have to narrow it down and start to focus on a much smaller group of players that we need to prepare for the season. Some of the [cuts] have been determined, and some of them are still being finalized,” Vanney revealed.

Some of the TFC 2 players will stay behind as they have to prepare for the upcoming USL season. But some will travel to Florida as Vanney and club GM Tim Bezbatchenko want to potentially sign a few to senior team contracts before the start of the MLS campaign.

“There are [TFC 2] guys that we are still assessing, and we want to assess them against MLS opponents,” Vanney said. “I would say there are a few guys who for sure are starting to make a case for themselves.”

Not only will the group of players narrow in Florida, but so will the team’s focus—unlike in California where it was about increasing players’ fitness levels after the off-season layoff.

“The focus in terms of our preparation for the start of the season becomes more game-oriented and tactical, and guys focusing on their responsibilities within what we do,” Vanney explained.

“We need to start having the vision of what we want to play like start to come out more clearly.”

Here’s is the team’s Florida schedule:

Feb. 13 – Team leaves for Orlando
• Feb. 15 – TFC vs. Miami FC (in Orlando)
• Feb. 17 – TFC vs. University of Central Florida (in Orlando)
• Feb. 19 – TFC vs. Orlando City (in Orlando)
• Feb. 22 – TFC vs. Minnesota United (in Orlando)
• Feb. 25 – TFC vs. Chicago Fire (in Tampa)

• Feb. 26 – Team returns to Toronto

Bradley and Altidore back

Midfielder Michael Bradley and forward Jozy Altidore are back with TFC after missing the first few weeks of camp because of U.S. national team commitments.

Both players are ill—Bradley has a virus of some sort, while Altidore is dealing with an inflammation issue in his knee—so neither one has been involved in a full training sessions with the Reds since returning. TFC is taking a cautious approach with the pair of Americans, wanting to get them back to full health before letting them participate in practice.

Even though Bradley is not training with his teammates, Vanney heralded his captain’s return to camp as a big positive for TFC as it enters the later stages of pre-season camp. Having Bradley and Altidore back also allows Vanney to get on with his long-term plans for the team.

“As a coach, I can start emphasising and focusing on things like the culture we’ve established and what does that look like, and what is everybody’s role and responsibility as we move forward,” Vanney explained.

“As I explained to the group this morning, an important step between this week and when we hit the ground in Orlando, is that we have a very clear reminder and image of what has made us successful and what will continue to make us successful. … It’s tough to do that when two or three of your key players and personalities are not with you.”

Mavinga settling in to life at TFC

French defender Chris Mavinga joined TFC in California after signing with as a free agent following his release from Russian outfit Rubin Kazan. He’s currently training with the Reds in Toronto, and the expectation is that he will start either on the left side of a three-man defence, or partner with Drew Moor in the middle when Toronto plays four at the back.

Mavinga featured in the Reds’ final exhibition match in California, and Vanney was impressed with what he saw from the Frenchman.

“He’s settled in pretty well… His defensive instincts are good. You can tell he’s an experienced defender. He’s very athletics; he can step in and win balls quickly and get transitions the other way. He covers a lot of territory,” Vanney enthused.

Start of regular season

Like always, Toronto FC will start the MLS regular season on the road this year.

TFC opens the campaign away to Real Salt Lake (March 4), Philadelphia Union (March 11) and Vancouver Whitecaps (March 18) before hosting Sporting Kansas City on March 31 in their home opener.

Check back with Sportsnet.ca on Thursday as I’ll have a story on captain Michael Bradley’s thoughts on the current state of the Toronto FC roster and the recent departure of former teammate Will Johnson.

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