'The past doesn't matter': TFC coach Preki
New man in charge of the Canadian club looks ahead
Forget about players and coaches who are long gone.
'We've got to make the playoffs': Jim Brennan
Toronto FC captain Jim Brennan stopped short of predicting the Reds would make the playoffs this season for the first time in team history.
But he left little doubt as to how important it is for the Canadian club to earn its first post-season berth.
"We've got to make the playoffs. If we don't make the playoffs this year, it's going to be, I can't say it [in public]," Brennan told reporters on Wednesday.
Toronto was in position to claim a playoff spot on the final day of the 2009 MLS campaign, needing a victory on the road against the last-place New York Red Bulls to have a shot at qualifying for the post-season.
But a humiliating 5-0 loss put paid to Toronto's playoff dreams.
The memory of the New York debacle still leaves a sour taste in Brennan's mouth.
"As a player, it's disgusting," said the Toronto captain. "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."
Brennan turns 33 in May and expects competition from rookie Zac Herold for the starting role at left back this season.
"It's going to be difficult. I'm going to be 33 soon, [so] it's going to be hard to play so many games, but the one thing I will do when I play is give everything I got," Brennan stated.
"Ideally I want to play as many games as I can, but you've got to look at it that if a young left back is coming through that's playing well, you have to step aside and let him go."
Forget about the previous three years that failed to produce a single post-season appearance.
Forget about the humiliating 5-0 loss to the last-place New York Red Bulls on the final day of the 2009 Major League Soccer campaign that dashed the club's playoff hopes.
Forget about the past. Forget about it all.
This is a new day, a new era in the history of Toronto FC.
That was the overriding message from new Reds coach Predrag (Preki) Radosavljevic Wednesday morning as his players continued pre-season training camp by undergoing cardio testing at York University.
Hired as the fourth head coach in team history last November, Preki, a 46-year-old native of Belgrade, is trying to instil a new attitude and winning mentality among his players as they prepare for the start of the 2010 season.
And whatever transpired in the past isn't part of the equation.
"It doesn't really matter to me what happened before. The only thing that matters is what happens now and what happens in the future," explained Preki, who won the MLS coach of the year award in 2007 when he was in charge of Chivas USA.
"That's the only thing I'm focused on. Hopefully everyone in the locker-room comes to work every day and everybody gives everything they have [so] we won't have any problems."
A major criticism of Toronto FC last year was that it lacked leadership, both inside the locker room and on the field, and that was why the team's season ended in such a humiliating fashion.
The belief is that arrival of Preki, a hard-nosed disciplinarian who doesn't suffer fools gladly, will help to change the culture at the Canadian club, as he will hold his players more accountable.
"He came in from Day 1 and laid down a good foundation of accountability, discipline and camaraderie.… Thus far, we're off to a good start," defender Nick Garcia said.
Midfielder Julian de Guzman said he was impressed with how Preki, in his first team talk since taking over the coaching reins, "made it crystal clear that he wants to bring a winning mentality into the dressing room."
In his short time in Toronto, Preki has left no doubt as to who is in charge.
"He wants things done right, and he wants them done his way," stated captain Jim Brennan.
Known as a ferocious competitor during his MLS playing career (he was twice voted the league's MVP), Preki carries himself with the same demeanour as a coach, a quality that has earned the respect of his players.
Injuries, Serioux update
Preki confirmed that midfielder Dwayne De Rosario will miss the next two to four weeks of pre-season training with a calf strain.
De Rosario, who picked up the injury while he was on duty for Canada's national team, isn't the only player on the limp for the Reds. Fellow midfielder Jacob Peterson, acquired by Toronto last month in a trade with Colorado, is recovering from an ACL injury sustained during a game against San Jose last September. Peterson said he hopes to return to full fitness within the next two months.
Forward Chad Barrett is coming off foot surgery and is aiming to return to full training before the start of the season.
A team official also confirmed that defender Adrian Serioux's contract has not been renewed. A source told CBCSports.ca that Serioux is facing a potentially career-ending neck injury.
Toronto FC opens the season on the road against the Columbus Crew on March 27.
"His mentality is spot on … it's going to rub off on us and we're going to be a better team for it," said midfielder Sam Cronin.
But being able to inspire some of the team veterans to take more of a leadership role this season won't be as easy as the new coach simply snapping his fingers.
"You can't really make somebody be a leader — that's a natural thing," Preki said. "We're looking for guys who have those qualities and hopefully we can find one or two who can lead the group."
His ultimate goal for 2010 will be to lead Toronto to its first playoff berth. You have to walk before you run, though, and Preki is focusing on fostering an environment of team unity under which the players can strive.
"The goal is to become a team first," the coach explained.
"Once you become a team, a group that plays for each other, [the playoffs] will come. I'm not really worried about that. I'm worried about now, how do we come together, how do we play together. That's something that I'm interested in today."
Preki admitted that Toronto FC still has holes, namely in the middle of defence, and that he and general manager Mo Johnston are actively looking to sign new players before the start of the regular season in March.
The search for new talent is an endless process.
"Manchester United are always looking to improve, so why wouldn't we?" the Reds coach stated. "We're always looking and hopefully we'll find some players, because we do have quite a few spots on the team that we need to fill."