It’s hard to say for sure if Preki is religious — Toronto FC’s coach is a fairly private person — but he is a man of faith.
Faith in a higher power? Maybe. Faith in Chad Barrett. Definitely.
When he took over the soccer coaching reins at TFC last November, Preki knew all about Barrett’s reputation — namely, that the stocky forward was a hard worker on the field but a player who usually squandered five of six scoring chances in a game.
Local fans and media have been unmercifully critical of Barrett over the past three seasons, bemoaning his lack of finishing in front of the net. Barrrett missed the first game of the current MLS season with an injury, and when he went his first five matches of the campaign without scoring, the public criticism grew even louder.
But Preki paid no mind to Barrett’s detractors. Instead, TFC’s coach took Barrett aside and reassured him he had every confidence that he would find his scoring touch.
Barrett has rewarded Preki’s faith with the best stretch of soccer he’s played since joining the team in 2008, including scoring the winner in Saturday’s 1-0 win over the New England Revolution.
In total, Barrett has three goals in his last seven games, including Canadian club championship matches. He’s shown more confidence out on the field, played more physically and taken on a more creative role by routinely setting up teammates with scoring chances.
Preki couldn’t be happier that his formerly under-fire forward appears to have turned an important corner.
"I think Chad has been working hard. Quite a few people have been really hard on Chad, but I think he has a lot of potential. It’s up to him how far he wants to go," TFC’s coach told reporters after Saturday’s game.
Fitness was a big issue for Barrett last season. He routinely cramped up during games and had to be substituted off, rarely lasting a full 90 minutes.
But in his last four starts in MLS action, Barrett has lasted the full game on three occasions.
"The thing that I’m most happy about is that I can go 90 and help the team out for longer, whereas last year I was cramping up and had to come off early," Barrett said.
That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement.
Barrett should have scored on a breakaway in the opening minute on Saturday, but New England goalkeeper Preston Burpo made a fine save to deny the TFC forward. Fifteen minutes later, Barrett failed to capitalize on a perfect pass from teammate Jacob Peterson, deflecting his shot over the crossbar.
Scored off corner
Barrett gave Toronto the lead in the 53rd minute, scoring on a header off a Sam Cronin corner kick. He should have padded Toronto’s advantage midway through the second half when he collected a pristine pass from O’Brian White, only to chip the bar over the crossbar while on a breakaway.
Old habits die hard, apparently.
"It was good to get the goal, but I could have had three today," Barrett admitted. "I’m a little disappointed in that, but at the same time, I’m not disappointed with the result."
Still, the fact that Barrett continues to get scoring chances is a good sign. He just needs to bury them.
What advice does his coach have for him? Simple: just relax.
"He’s getting in positions to score goals and if he takes a little bit of a breath and relaxes a little, I think he will score even more," Preki explained. "Every time you tense up, you’re bound to miss.
"You have to relax and be confident in your ability. Chad has ability."