Toronto FC set for MLS debut against Chivas USA
It has been a hectic week for Toronto FC.
In the past seven days, Major League Soccer's latest expansion franchise has:
- Signed Scottish winger Andy Welsh.
- Practised at BMO Field, the club's new stadium, for the first time.
- Lost veteran Ronnie O'Brien to injury.
- Traded midfielder Jose Cancela to the Colorado Rapids.
All this before the club has even kicked a ball in a regular-season game.
That comes Saturday evening when Toronto plays the firstgame of its inaugural season in MLS, against Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
Toronto FC officially became MLS's 13th team last spring, and the first club outside the United States since the league officially kicked off in 1996.
The expansion franchise, owned and operated by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, follows in the footsteps of the Toronto Blizzard, who captured the hearts of soccer fans in the city during the glory years of the now-defunct North American Soccer League.
Led by coach Mo Johnston, a former Scottish national team player, Toronto FC have a tough task ahead intheir first season: putting a winning product on the field.
The Scot is full of confidence and he has imparted it to his players, who feel they can be competitive in the league's Eastern Conference and claim a playoff spot.
Key attacker lost
It was Johnston's commitment to winning that persuaded veteran midfielder Carl Robinson, a member of the Welsh national team, to join Toronto FC.
"Mo's a winner. Mo said to me straight away that he had plans. He told mehe wasn't coming here just to do OK," Robinson told CBC Sports Online. "He wants to make the playoffs and win the league, and straight away I thought that's what I want to be part of. That sold it for me."
The team suffered a big blow in Tuesday's practice when Ronnie O'Brien partially tore a ligament in his right knee during practice. The Irishman is expected to be out for four to six weeks, a big loss for a club that planned to use him as the focal point ofits attack in midfield.
"It's a big blow for Ronnie," said Robinson."He's a big character off the pitch, as well, and he's a super player on the pitch. Hopefully it'll only be a couple of weeks for Ronnie, but that gives someone else a chance.
"The manager might have to adjust his team plans now because Ronnie going down means that'll open up a chance for somebody else," added the Welshman, who has played the last 12 years in England with several clubs, including Sunderland and Norwich City.
Johnston did not reveal a starting lineup after Friday's training session in California, but he did say that Robinson would start in O'Brien's place.
O'Brien isn't the only injured Toronto player.
Becks hits T.O. in August
Midfielder Maurice Edu, the first overall pick in this year's draft, is sidelined with a groin injury, and Canadian defender Chris Pozniak is out with a hamstring injury.
Forward Conor Casey of the U.S. (thigh), Brazilian midfielder Paulo Nagamura (calf), Canadian defender Marco Reda (thigh), and Andy Welsh (groin) are carrying minor injuries, but will likely be available to play if called upon Saturday.
Pozniak and Reda are two of five members of Canada's national team on the roster. The others are goalkeeper Greg Sutton, defender Adam Braz and midfielder Jim Brennan.
Toronto FC's opponents, Chivas USA, are entering their thirdseasonin the league and are seeking to reach the playoffs for the second straight year. Former MLS star Preki will make his coaching debut for Chivas, taking over the sidelines for the departed Bob Bradley.
Toronto FC's next game is April 14 against the New England Revolution.
After playing its first three games of the season on the road, Toronto FC will make their home debut at BMO Field on April 28 against the Kansas City Wizards.
David Beckham, who recently signed a five-year deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy, is slated to play his first MLS regular-season game in Toronto on Aug. 5.