Toronto FC heads for warmth of California to start training camp in earnest
Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney looks on during second half MLS Cup Final soccer action against the Seattle Sounders in Toronto on Saturday, December 9, 2017. After medicals and two days of fitness training indoors in the frigid north, Toronto FC heads to the warmth and real grass of California on Friday to start training camp in earnest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, January 17, 2019 1:00PM EST
TORONTO -- After medicals and two days of fitness training indoors in the frigid north, Toronto FC heads to the warmth and real grass of California on Friday to start training camp in earnest.
For coach Greg Vanney, it's a chance to implement lessons learned last year when Toronto reached the final of the CONCACAF Champions League but plummeted from MLS champion to 19th overall in the league table with a dismal 10-18-6 record.
Vanney believes his squad may have been unable to see the forest for the trees in 2018. Injuries and impatience over the ever-growing gap in the standings served as distractions while a crowded schedule cut into training time.
"Maybe what got lost in some of that is just the day-to-day process of just getting better. And everybody just concentrating and trying to stay focused on that," said Vanney.
Vanney is taking some 40 players to train at the University of California, Irvine, located 60 kilometres south of Los Angeles. That includes 27 first-team roster players although captain Michael Bradley, Marky Delgado and goalkeeper Alex Bono won't join the team until after the U.S. national team camp ends in early February.
The squad is being divided into three groups, with the youngest pool including some younger USL players. The camp roster features trialist Richie Laryea, a 24-year-old midfielder from Toronto who was drafted seventh overall by Orlando in 2016.
The team is well-rested considering its last game was Oct. 28. In 2016 and 2017, the team played in the MLS Cup final on Dec. 10 and 9, respectively.
Veteran defender Drew Moor, who turned 35 on Tuesday, says the longer break and chance to recharge were welcome.
His early take on the team's mood is encouraging.
"I just feel like there's kind of that fire back that maybe we missed a bit last year. There's that hunger and desire to come back and make 2019 a very good year," Moor said.
The roster remains largely the same although news this week that playmaker Victor Vazquez is heading to a team in Qatar was a blow.
Additions are veteran defender Laurent Ciman and winger Nick DeLeon. Gone are forwards Tosaint Ricketts and Lucas Jansson, goalkeeper Clint Irwin and defender Jason Hernandez.
Last year, Toronto divided its pre-season between California and Mexico, with an eye to prepping for Champions League. Before that, it usually divided training camp between California and Florida.
This year, the team is spending close to a month in California. The goal is to maximize training and reduce travel time.
"Whenever you travel in pre-season, it's a three-day affair -- you have the day you travel, you have the recovery day. You lose days," said Vanney.
To ease the burden of being away from home, a window has been arranged for family to visit during camp.
TFC opens pre-season play Jan. 27 against Los Angeles FC before facing the USL's Las Vegas Lights in Las Vegas on Feb. 2, USL's Orange County SC on Feb. 8 and the Los Angeles Galaxy on Feb 9.
TFC will field split squads against Colorado and Mexico's Tijuana on Feb. 12, returning to Toronto the next day.
Toronto starts for real on Feb. 19 in CONCACAF Champions League round-of-16 play against Club Atletico Independiente in Panama. The MLS season opens March 2 in Philadelphia.