TORONTO â€” With close to three dozen players on hand and more coming, Toronto FC has split into two in the early days of training camp.
The veterans form one group. Centre back Brandon Aubrey and the other draft picks are part of a younger gaggle of players that includes trialists and some Toronto FC 2 talent. Call it Toronto FC boot camp.
“The second group we’ve spent a little bit more time going through video and going through how we play and the vision of how we want to play,” head coach Greg Vanney explained. “Whereas the first group of guys was here all of last year. They played a lot of minutes down the stretch. I think they have a sense of that already.”
“We’ll mix them all together as we start to play games,” he added.
The young group numbered 18 Thursday. TFC 2 reinforcements are expected, once the USL camp officially opens Feb. 8.
As far as veterans are concerned, Vanney is just missing captain Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, who remain with the U.S. national team.
Veteran French midfielder Benoit Cheyrou is training with Toronto despite not having signed a new deal. GM Tim Bezbatchenko says that is imminent, with the 35-year-old Cheyrou possibly staying with the club in some kind of coaching role after his playing days are over.
Cheyrou, whose class shines on and off the field, is seen as a valuable resource â€” especially mentoring younger players.
Vanney expects to take all but one or two players to the West Coast on Saturday for the California leg of camp. The team will train at University of California, Irvine â€” home of the Anteaters (it beat out the unicorns, sea hawks, toros, bison, centaurs, roadrunners and “none of these” in a 1965 vote to decide the university mascot).
TFC will return to Toronto on Feb. 6, leaving a week later for Florida, and the second warm-weather phase of camp near Orlando. While in Florida, the team will play friendlies against Miami FC, the University of Central Florida, Orlando City, Minnesota United and the Chicago Fire.
The squad will return home Feb. 26 with the season opener March 4 in Real Salt Lake.
Vanney and the coaching staff will ramp the camp up as the days go on. For example, players aren’t shooting in this early stage and ‘keepers are basically just using their feet. The early focus is on fitness.
Aubrey, Toronto’s first-round selection in the MLS SuperDraft earlier this month, is the only rookie in camp with a contract. The Notre Dame defender signed a contract with the league prior to the draft â€” which the league will only do if a team has committed to take the player in question in the first or perhaps second round.
Another team committed to Aubrey, who fell down the draft ladder because of a spotty performance at the pre-draft Combine, but TFC got him at No. 21.
The other four draft picks â€” goalkeeper Robert Moewes (Duke), defender-midfielder Oyvind Alseth (Syracuse) and defenders Lars Eckenrode (Michigan) and Juan Pablo Saavedra (Virginia Tech) â€” are in camp but have to earn a first-team or USL contract.
The team puts up the trialists and draft picks, typically together, ferrying them to and from training.
Players can arrive in camp via circuitous routes. Finnish trialist Johan Brunell, for example, was spotted at a combine in Mexico. The big defender ended up showcasing his skills in Puebla because some Mexican teammates from his former club were there and Bezbatchenko was alerted to him by one of his connections.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press