Toronto FC leaves the snow for the warmth of Florida on Monday, kicking off the most important part of its training camp.
While the first part of pre-season — in California and Toronto — was about fitness and strategy, the Orlando portion is about putting it all in practice against quality opposition.
Florida is also a time to rekindle relationships. Captain Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore have missed most of camp so far due to U.S. national duties and have been less than 100 per cent since their return — Bradley with a virus and Altidore with a knee inflammation.
Star striker Sebastian Giovinco, meanwhile, has seem limited action in Toronto as the team looked to reduce his time on artificial turf.
It has been a quiet pre-season to date. The MLS Cup runners-up have done little other than sign French-born Congolese defender Chris Mavinga and reward goalkeeper Clint Irwin, midfielder Benoit Cheyrou and forward Tosaint Ricketts with new contracts. Defender Brandon Aubrey and four others were taken in the January draft.
Vanney is taking 30 players to Orlando with matches against Miami FC (NASL), Orlando City, Minnesota United and the Chicago Fire. That includes all 11 starters from the MLS Cup final, which ended in a penalty shootout loss to Seattle.
Toronto currently has 23 players signed with four more on trial: defenders Clement Simonin (whose previous time with TFC was disrupted by injury), Jordan McCrary and Johan Bruneel, and forward Aikim Andrews. The team will likely go with 27 or 28 players during the season with one loaned to Toronto FC 2 for the USL season.
While GM Tim Bezbatchenko has talked of adding an attacking midfielder, he seems in no hurry. A wish list of three dropped to two recently and Bezbatchenko seems content to wait until he gets the right man.
Part of the reason is that midfield opportunities are limited in the 3-5-2 formation, something that no doubt factored into the team allowing veteran Will Johnson to leave for Orlando. Bradley, Armando Cooper and Jonathan Osorio are joined by Cheyrou, Jay Chapman, Marky Delgado and Sergio Camargo.
Vanney needs depth in defence after losing Josh Williams (Columbus) and Mark Bloom (Atlanta) in the off-season. He has Drew Moor, Nick Hagglund, Eriq Zavaleta, Mavinga and Aubrey at centre back with Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour as the returning wingbacks.
Support is needed at wingback, where Ashtone Morgan is the only specialized reserve. Winger Tsubasa Endoh, nursing a calf contusion, is currently pencilled in as the reserve right wingback but would seem a temporary solution at best.
Giovinco, Altidore, Ricketts, Jordan Hamilton and Mo Babouli form the strike force. Alex Bono is Irwin's backup in goal.
Toronto has three international spots to spare, leaving room for Simonin (France) and/or Bruneel (Finland) if so desired. The team is likely to keep one international spot open in case it gets the midfielder it is looking for.
Among younger players vying for senior roster spots are speedy winger Raheem Edwards. Midfielder Liam Fraser has also impressed.
Toronto is slated to return from Florida on Feb. 26. The regular season opens March 4 at Real Salt Lake.
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