By RON FANFAIR
Toronto FC will be at home for five of its first seven matches in the 2011 Major League Soccer (MLS) season that kicks off on March 19.
In its fifth year, the club will meet the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps on the road in the first All-Canadian MLS meeting. The local side returns home for its season opener the following weekend against the Portland Timbers which is also in its inaugural season.
Toronto FC will play its first midweek game on Wednesday, April 13 against the Los Angeles Galaxy which bowed out to FC Dallas in last year’s Western Conference final. Toronto plays six midweek matches, 26 on Saturdays and two on Sundays.
The club is training in Oakville this week after returning from a pre-season training camp in Antalya, Turkey that included three practice matches. Toronto FC beat Red Star Belgrade 1-0, drew 1-1 with Partizan Belgrade and lost 3-1 to Dinamo Zagreb.
The Toronto team, under new head coach Aron Winter, leaves on Monday for Orlando to take part in the four-team Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic. The other competitors are Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas and Orlando City. Toronto lost 4-0 to New York Red Bulls in last year’s final.
Failing to make the play-offs in its first four seasons, Toronto FC revamped its roster in the off-season, trading forward Chad Barrett and mid-field player Joseph Nane to Los Angeles and Colorado respectively. Vancouver picked up Jamaican-born striker O’Brian White in the expansion draft, Martin Saric, Maxim Usanov, Miguel “Mista” Martinez and Raivis Hscanovics were released and the club declined the option on Amadou Sanyang, Nick Garcia and Fuad Ibrahim.
Toronto acquired 23-year-old midfielder Nathan Sturgis from Vancouver last November in exchange for its eighth overall pick in the SuperDraft. The club also picked up Demitrius Omphroy, Junior Burgos and Joao Plata in the SuperDraft and J.C. Banks, Steven Beattie, Spencer Thompson and Scott Rojo in the supplemental draft.
Canada, meanwhile, is in the same group with Costa Rica and Guadeloupe for the Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer (CONCACAF) regional Under-20 championships that take place in Guatemala City from March 28 to April 10.
The national team won the competition in 1986 and 1996.
Group “A” comprises host country Guatemala, Jamaica and Honduras while the Group “B” contestants are Panama, Suriname and the United States. Trinidad & Tobago, Mexico and Cuba are in Group “D”.
The top four teams advance to the International Soccer Federation’s (FIFA) Under-20 tournament in Colombia from July 29 to August 20.
Canada has participated in eight World Cup finals since the biennial competition started in 1977. The national team’s best finish was in 2003 when it reached the quarter-finals.