Soccer

Toronto FC continues to audition new talent

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Associated Press
3/5/2013 4:46:33 PM
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TORONTO -- The MLS season has already started but Toronto FC remains very much a work in progress.

At practice Tuesday, a half-dozen trialists looked to make their mark under the bubble at the club's north Toronto practice facility. Others, like Welsh striker Robert Earnshaw, signed on last week and are still learning the ropes.

While manager Ryan Nelsen looks to fashion a squad, the new regime is also having to deal off the field with the sins of the franchise's past.

"There's a reason probably why the club hasn't had a certain amount of success," Nelsen said. "We're just trying to implement certain things that make the club work on a good foundation -- and that's scouting, recruiting, organization, infrastructure and all of that.

"Once we get that, then we can kind of build on top of that."

With managers Aron Winter, Paul Mariner and technical manager Bob de Klerk leaving the franchise during or after the 2012 season, the Toronto front office seemingly folded into itself until president Kevin Payne came on board Nov. 28.

Nelsen was named coach on Jan. 8, but had to settle with Queens Park Rangers on a suitable date to leave the playing field in the English Premier League and start his managerial career in MLS.

He eventually took the TFC reins on Feb. 1.

"When we came in the club, the club had done nothing," Nelsen said. "No recruitment, no scouting, no nothing, so we literally have to start from scratch here and we feel like we're four or five weeks behind everybody because we had to deal with cap issues and we had to deal with squad issues.

"Hopefully now we're starting to bring in some players. I just wish pre-season would go for four or five more weeks."

Nelsen's matter-of-fact statements are, in fact, a damning indictment of what preceded him.

Incompetence wears many faces at a franchise that has never made the playoffs in six seasons and boasts a career league record of 45-88-55.

Having agreed to take over the runt of the MLS litter, the new management at TFC is essentially trying to assess talent, acquire it and then turn it into something that works under the league's salary cap.

And the clock is ticking.

It's like Nelsen is baking a cake. He's had to pop something in the oven while colleagues are running around outside picking up necessary ingredients.

Chances are this first batch may not taste very good. But the former New Zealand international is confident the recipe will get better in time.

"It's a fun challenge," Nelsen said. "But all I can say is everybody's working extremely hard and we'll definitely be improving this squad."

Toronto, which ended its dismal 5-21-8 season in 2012 with a 14-game winless streak, lost its season opener 1-0 in Vancouver on Saturday.

Nelsen and his players, while disappointed at the result, saw positives in the performance.

"I feel really bad for the guys because I thought they worked really hard," said the manager. "They stayed organized, they never gave up and they were always in the game up until the end."

Earnshaw and winger Hogan Ephraim played despite having just arrived at the club. But goalkeeper Stefan Frei (nose), midfielders Luis Silva (hamstring) and Julio Cesar (calf strain) and forward Justin Braun (concussion) all missed out through injury.

Silva and Cesar are close to returning to full training. Frei was back at practice Tuesday, wearing a protective mask to shield his surgically repaired nose.

The hope is to have all three back for the home opener Saturday against Sporting Kansas City at Rogers Centre.

Frei wants it to happen without the mask, but that decision probably isn't his.

Braun feels good but is working his way through the concussion protocol.

Midfielder Kyle Bekker, meanwhile, missed Tuesday's workout through flu.

Trialists at practice were Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault, John Bostock, Jacob Hustedt, Jaime Peters, Ryan Richter and Lance Rozeboom.

There could be more roster additions. Chief scout Pat Onstad was at training Tuesday after visits to South and Central America.

An Argentine designated player and several Hondurans appear on the TFC wish list. Onstad was in a wait-and-see mode when asked.

Ryan Nelsen (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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