Toronto FC missing familiar names as training camp opens

MLS champion Toronto FC opened training camp Monday with some familiar names missing and space for some international reinforcements.

Gone are Benoit Cheyrou (retired), Steven Beitashour (Los Angeles F.C.) and Raheem Edwards (Montreal Impact). Panama midfielder Armando Cooper has also moved on, with Norwegian defender Oyvind Alseth pondering options outside MLS.

Ben Spencer and Tsubasa Endoh have received invites to camp despite having their options declined after last season. Talks continue with veteran defender Jason Hernandez.

Only Beitashour was a starter and TFC has a ready-made replacement for him in Nico Hasler.

New to the first team are newly signed 18-year-old homegrown forward Ayi Akinola and 19-year-old midfielder Liam Fraser, promoted up the ranks.

The training camp roster has 39 names, including 20 who were part of last year’s first team as well as developmental players and draft picks. Including the trialists, the first-team roster (which can number up to 30) is currently at 22.

Toronto biding its time

Essentially Toronto is waiting on several international player targets. But head coach Greg Vanney says the team is in no rush, biding its time to wait to get the right people.

“We do have international [roster] spots open but we also have a lot of dialogue going on out there,” Vanney told reporters. “We’ll see how things kind of play out.”

“We need to be wise about how we build this team,” he added. “It’s not just about one championship, it’s about trying to win every championship this year and part of that is making sure we get the right guys.”

Toronto has more than $ 5 million US available this year in targeted allocation money, which can be used to help finance the acquisition of an elite player or to reduce his salary-cap hit to as low as $ 150,000. Toronto used TAM last year to get Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez, who played a key role in the championship season.

“We have some opportunity in front of us,” said Vanney. “We’re at a point now where we’re not just adding anyone, we’re being very specific about who we want to add both as a person and as a player.

“And we’re very specific about the roles that we’re seeking and type of player we’re trying to get into the team.”

Depth needed

Only Hasler, Vazquez, Sebastian Giovinco and Chris Mavinga currently occupy international spots.

Vanney said depth is needed on the right side and in the midfield on a shopping list that includes two or three players. On the plus side, Vanney said the re-signing of defender Eriq Zavaleta is a formality.

After medicals Monday, the team left for Los Angeles for some warm-weather training. The squad will also spend part of its camp in Mexico.

Goalkeeper Alex Bono, fullback Justin Morrow and midfielder Marky Delgado are slated to join the squad after they’re done with the current U.S. national team camp in Carson, Calif.

Toronto is coming off a record season that saw it win the MLS Cup and Canadian Championship and claim the Supporters’ Shield with the highest points total (69) in league history.

On Monday, Vanney and his players repeated their mantra of one day, one game and one competition at a time. But the bottom line is Toronto is looking to turn it up another notch.

“In this game, the beauty is there’s always a way to be better,” said Vanney.

“I don’t think there’s a spot where we can’t improve … from Bono to me and Seba,” echoed striker Jozy Altidore.

Set the bar high

“We feel like we’ve set a good high bar for ourselves in the last two years,” said captain Michael Bradley. “And we want to continue on improve on everything we’ve done. We want to be the team that is fighting to hold up every trophy.”

The team adds the CONCACAF Champions League to its already crowded schedule this season.

While the team may be in no rush to sign talent, Vanney and his players spoke of the need to get in gear quickly. Toronto has a CONCACAF Champions League round of 16 series against the Colorado Rapids (Feb. 20 and 27) before the season opener March 3 against visiting Columbus.

“It’s a great way to start the season with that kind of a challenge.” Vanney said of the CONCACAF competition.

The players are eager. While Monday marked the official opening of camp, Bradley says a good portion of the team has been training together for the last two weeks.

“We start fast this year,” said Vanney. “And I think guys around here are veteran enough to understand what their bodies need to get themselves prepared to compete at the highest level they can in what will be four weeks from when we start.”

Toronto will play expansion Los Angeles FC in a pre-season game Feb. 2 at UCLA, which will pit Bradley against his father Bob, the LAFC coach.

Vanney also revealed Jason Bent will no longer coach Toronto FC 2, instead helping with the first team. The club is expect to announce his TFC 2 replacement next week.

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