Home opener looms, roster taking shape

Posted on 15 April 2008 by Scott Ferguson

Toronto FC waived defender Andrew Boyens on Tuesday, freeing up an international roster spot on transfer deadline day. Unattached French defender Olivier Tébily is still rumored to be on TFC’s radar, as the ex-Birmingham stopper would bolster a central defensive unit consisting of Marco Vélez, Tyrone Marshall and draft picks Julius James and Pat Phelan.

The back line has hardly inspired confidence in their first three Major League Soccer matches as a unit, conceding eight goals including a clumsy penalty against LA Galaxy on Sunday. The side’s offensive output in California was enough to steal three points, however, and the crowd at BMO Field will welcome the side home as returning heroes after their 3-2 win in Los Angeles.

While Director of Soccer Mo Johnston and head coach John Carver were slow to bring in new faces over the offseason, they’ve come thick and fast in recent weeks, with the team’s poor performance in Columbus seemingly enough to spur on the signings of midfielders Laurent Robert, Amado Guevara and Rohan Ricketts. Both Robert, who had one game under his belt already, and Guevara were impressive in the LA win. Guevara set up Danny Dichio for the opening goal and Robert notched two assists in the course of the match, including a pinpoint pass for Jeff Cunningham to win the ball and finish past Steve Cronin late on.

Strikers Dichio, Cunningham and Jarrod Smith were all on the mark on Sunday, but fans are still hoping to see a young striker recruited in time for next week’s home game against Kansas City Wizards. Simon Lynch, the Scottish forward who was born in Montreal, has spent time with the Queensland Roar in Australia and would not count as an international on the Toronto roster. He has been rumoured to be a target for TFC.

As long as Dichio and Cunningham stay healthy, the front line has ample backup in Smith and Andrea Lombardo, but the starting duo could only garner 33 appearances between them in an injury-plagued 2007. Accordingly, ex-Newcastle United physio Paul Winsper has been brought in as a strength and conditioning coach, and his expertise appeared to show as Toronto stayed the sharper side in the California sun against Los Angeles.

Lombardo, the Canadian under-23 international, showed promise last season but may have been forced into extended first-team action too soon by the raft of injuries that faced Toronto. The Atalanta youth product has had success with Canada’s under-20 team but was largely restricted toto substitute appearances for Canada’s Olympic side in Beijing 2008 qualifying earlier this year.

With Toronto’s midfield finally set, the last pieces of the puzzle might consist in a starting centerback and more depth in the forward line, but it remains unlikely that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the club’s owners, will use their Designated Player spot in 2008. With five straight home games on the horizon and just three points under their belt thus far, TFC’s notorious home advantage will have to serve them well in the coming weeks. The Reds wrap up their home stand on May 21st with a chance to exact revenge on D.C. United for the 4-1 drubbing they suffered at RFK Stadium last weekend.

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