It wasn't that long ago that Toronto FC tried to take a big bite out of the Big Apple, but instead of enjoying the sweetness of the fruit, all it got for its trouble was a mouthful of bile.
Last October, Toronto entered its final game of the 2009 Major League Soccer season needing a victory against the lowly New York Red Bulls to clinch their first-ever playoff berth.
It turned out to be a memorable night for Toronto, but for all the wrong reasons. The Reds stumbled to a humiliating 5-0 loss to the last-place Red Bulls, their playoff dreams washed away on a rainy evening at Giants Stadium in the cruellest of fashions.
Curiously, the Canadian club did not rise to the occasion in New York. Instead, in what was touted beforehand as the biggest game in club history, Toronto came up with its worst-ever performance and worst-ever result against a Red Bulls team that was considered one of the worst in league history.
'Think about it all the time'
Almost four months have passed since the New York debacle, and the team has already started pre-season preparations for the 2010 MLS campaign.
But the sour taste lingers in Toronto captain Jim Brennan's mouth.
"You think about it all the time. As a player, it's disgusting," said Brennan. "Your last game, you lose five-nil away from home — that's something you don't want to happen in your career, but unfortunately it happened to us. I tell you one thing, that won't be happening again."
In particular, Brennan hasn't forgotten how low he felt after he slumped off the field following the loss to New York. He plans to use that painful memory as a source of motivation this season.
'I'm not going to focus on what happened before me.'—Preki, TFC coach
"I'm still upset that we didn't make the playoffs, but it makes us more eager now to get things right," the defender said. "It's crucial, it's vital. We need [to make the playoffs] for the fans, for the club, for ourselves. We need to push forward and start making things happen at this club."
Toronto midfielder Julian de Guzman, who joined the Reds late last season from Spanish club Deportivo la Coruna, admitted he did some soul searching in the off-season.
"Right after that loss, I spent a week [thinking about it]," de Guzman said. "It was a learning experience for me and the team."
Brennan and de Guzman appear to be the only two Toronto players who still think about the loss to New York, with sophomore midfielder Sam Cronin claiming "it's behind us already."
Preki strives for new team mindset
Veteran defender Nick Garcia concurs with Cronin.
"I think we've thought about it, we've dealt with it and we've moved on," Garcia stated. "It's a completely different team mindset right now."
The different mindset at the club can, in large part, be attributed to new coach Preki, who is trying to instil a new attitude and winning mentality among his players as they prepare for the start of the 2010 season.
Preki insists that whatever transpired last season, including the events at Giant Stadium, no longer matters.
"That's in the past. I wasn't part of that — I'm not going to focus on what happened before me. I'm going to focus on now and the future," Preki stated. "What happened behind us, we can't change [anything] about it."