Greg Sutton will serve as Toronto FC's starting goalkeeper during the expansion club's first season. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
Fired up Greg Sutton looks to make big impact with Toronto FC
It's 'the right time, the right team,' says goalkeeper
Last Updated Tues., Dec. 12, 2006
By John F. Molinaro, CBC Sports
It took seven years, but goalkeeper Greg Sutton has been granted a chance at redemption.
The 29-year-old from Hamilton, Ont., was recently introduced as the newest member of Major League Soccer's Toronto FC expansion franchise. This spring's FC debut will mark Sutton's return to North America's top soccer league, following a career-boosting season with Montreal Impact of the United Soccer League, one level below MLS.
There was also a brief - albeit sobering - experience with the Chicago Fire of the MLS.
"When I was playing in the league six or seven years ago, I was a young kid with not a lot of game experience, and it was a tough time for myself," Sutton told CBC Sports Online recently.
"There's definitely something for me to prove … I think I've done fairly well [with Montreal], and now it's time for me to push myself to a new level. I think this is the perfect opportunity to do that."
Sutton was a backup goalkeeper for the Fire, playing only five games from 1999-2000. After burning out in Chicago, he returned to Canada and signed with the Impact.
During his five seasons in Montreal, Sutton was named USL goalkeeper of the year for four seasons, as well as league MVP in 2004. He also set club records for all-time regular-season shutouts (67), wins (72) and games played (132).
Now he's in Toronto and ready for another shot at MLS.
Intrigued by high level of MLS play
Sutton cited the higher calibre of play in MLS as one reason for leaving Montreal.
"It came to a point where I think I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish and I felt that I needed to challenge myself more," Sutton said. "The forwards and attacking players are better and faster [in MLS], so it's going to bring about new challenges for myself."
Sutton matured in Montreal, and his consistent performances for the Impact caught the attention of Canada's national team, as he earned his first of eight caps in January 2004.
His valuable experience in Montreal paved the way for his big move to Toronto FC.
"Especially at the goalkeeping position, experience is a major factor," explained Sutton. "I think playing in the [USL] and playing for Montreal the past few seasons has been a great period of me. That's going to be a benefit for me. Now I'm ready, and I think I've picked the right time and the right team to start my MLS career again."
The first thing that strikes you about Sutton is his size.
At six-foot-six-inches, Greg Sutton towers over the average opponent. (Ian Barrett/Canadian Press)
At six-foot-six, he towers over the average opponent, but Sutton maintains that a goalkeeper's ability to come out for crosses played into his penalty box is just as important as using height to one's advantage.
"That's a key for goalkeepers because if you can come and intercept balls, intercept scoring opportunities ... I'd like to think that a lot of those scoring opportunities [in the past] didn't come because I came out to intercept crosses. I think that's a big part of my game," said Sutton.
"MLS is similar to the USL in that you have a lot of wide play and a lot of balls played in from the flanks."
Faces Johnston - as a coach
In a strange twist of fate, Toronto FC coach Mo Johnston faced Sutton in the goalkeeper's last game in MLS in 2000, when Johnston, a former Scottish international, was a member of the Kansas City Wizards.
"I had played with the Canadian Olympic team in Trinidad … and I had flown back the night before in Kansas City, a 15-hour flight. We had a game the next day and I was completely jet-lagged," recalled Sutton.
"I wasn't really feeling my best, but it was an opportunity to play; I didn't want to turn it down. I gave up a couple of goals that I would have liked back. That was my last game in MLS. … Mo didn't score, but he made some nice passes in midfield to set up his teammates."
Johnston believes Sutton is a much different goalkeeper than the one who struggled in Chicago.
"He was a young kid … he's grown since then. He's wiser. He's 29 years old. He's now an international goalkeeper," said Johnston. "I'm thrilled to have him and I think it's a great signing for this franchise.
"He has everything. He has the height. He's very agile. He communicates well with his defenders. … He's a great captain-like player to have on your team. It was vital that we got him."
Sutton believes there is room for his game to improve, pointing out that most goalkeepers don't reach their prime until much later in their careers.
"As a goalkeeper, you need to continue to study the game and really be a student as far as watching the plays develop, getting good timing and reacting," said Sutton.
"You look at goalkeepers who play until they're 38, the reason is because they're students of the game and they don't really become their prime because they have years of studying to do. That's what I went through the last six years, and I think now I have a pretty good handle on reading plays."