Greg Sutton: Looking over his shoulder
Competition for starter's job doesn't scare Toronto FC goalkeeper
Greg Sutton has seen it all in his two years as starting goalkeeper of Toronto FC.
From having to deal with top-quality strikers the calibre of Juan Pablo Angel and Kenny Copper bearing down on him to serving as the last line of defence behind a porous back four, the Canadian goalkeeper has packed a lot in during his stint with Toronto FC.
And now a new experience: two youngsters trying to beat him out for the No. 1 goalkeeper's job for the 2009 MLS campaign.
Toronto FC currently has three shot-stoppers in pre-season training camp after the club used the No. 13 pick overall in last month's college draft to select Stefan Frei from the University of California.
Frei will battle it out with Sutton and Brian Edwards, Sutton's backup last season, for the right to earn the starting goalkeeper's job for the upcoming season.
Sutton missed most of 2007 because of a concussion suffered while playing for the Canadian national team but rebounded with a solid 2008 campaign that saw him post a 7-10-7 record in 24 games with a 1.46 goals against average and six shutouts.
His stellar play didn't lead to any kind of job security, though. In fact, the opposite occurred, and now Sutton is looking over his shoulder as Edwards and Frei try to usurp him as Toronto's top man between the posts.
Sutton, 31, said he takes it all in stride and welcomes the opportunity to have to earn the starting goalkeeper's job.
"It's great. Anytime you have competition, it brings out the best in yourself. Every year there's competition, not just this year. There's been competition my entire life," Sutton recently told CBCSports.ca.
"It's something that's normal in a professional atmosphere … so bringing in new talent is good for us, and it'll be a good training camp."
Toronto coach John Carver said Sutton is not a lock to start in net and that he expects "healthy competition" among the three goalkeepers in pre-season.
"When you come back to camp, everything is up for grabs. … It's a fresh start for everybody. To be fair to your players as a coach, you have to give everybody an opportunity," Carver explained.
Sutton echoed his coach's sentiments saying "everyone starts from ground zero, and you have to win yourself a spot in the lineup. That's how every pre-season works, and everyone has a chance. That's the way it should be."
Toronto selected Edwards, 24, in the second round of the 2008 draft and the New Jersey native was so impressive in training camp that Carver chose him — and not Sutton — to start in net at the beginning of the regular season.
Edwards welcome challenge
Like Sutton, Edwards is looking forward to competing for the starting goalkeeper's job this season.
"I love competition, and I'm the kind of person that wants to win at anything no matter what is, whether you're playing pick-up-sticks or playing soccer. It's going to be great," Edwards said.
As for Frei, 22, he's hoping to pick up as much as he can from Sutton and Edwards while training alongside them.
"I'm happy that I'm practising with two goalkeepers that are really good because I'm looking to learn from them. Hopefully I can push them to get better," Frei stated. "Right now, I'm just trying to learn and get better. It's up to the coach to decide who plays."
Frei anticipates that making the transition from college soccer to the pros will be a daunting task.
"The shots off the foot of strikers will come a lot quicker and harder, the pace of the game is faster. So, it will take some time to get adjusted to it, but it's good because that means a new experience for me and hopefully [a chance to] get better," Frei admitted.
Although he is in direct competition with Edwards and Frei, Sutton said he feels obliged to mentor the youngsters and give them a chance to benefit from his years of experience.
"You always try to give guidance to young players, and you can't be a selfish player in that respect," Sutton said. "I look back to when I started my career, and there were older players who helped me out, so I look to do the same.
"Those two guys [Edwards and Frei] have bright futures ahead of them so if I can help them, I'll do it. Helping them is going to help me in the end, so it's a win-win situation for everyone."