Canada’s young soccer hopes can now witness first-hand the daily trials that come with being a big-league player for Toronto FC.
Good news, bad news.
The bad news is Canada is still a minnow on the world stage of soccer. Mediocrity has been a way of life.
The good news is – from TFC’s point of view – problems can now be addressed at home and dealt with by qualified coaches at the MLS club’s new soccer academy before they turn into habits. Mediocrity need not become permanent.
On Tuesday, Toronto FC officially broke ground on its academy at the 14-acre Downsview Park site, at a cost of $21-million, plus monthly rent. Launching what it hopes is a new era for a sport which has seldom flourished in the city despite the Greater Toronto Area’s multinational make-up.
The new facility will be the regular training place for TFC junior and senior academy sides. The four-field site, which will have one heated pitch and one FieldTurf artificial surface covered with a bubble during the winter, should be complete by June of 2012, said Tom Anselmi, chief operating officer of TFC owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.
There will be a 45,000-square-foot field house for lockers, a training room and TFC offices, a news release said.
“There are four pillars on which you construct a team and one of them is player development,” Anselmi said. “We started this franchise in 2007, and since that time there’s been nothing like this is North America.
“There’s an opportunity to combine grassroots work with a high-performance, professional facility. There’s a opportunity to move from drafting college players or working with European draftees to get moving on player development.”
Such young players will become the future of TFC, head coach Aron Winter said.
“You could say it’s nicer than Ajax [a soccer power in the Netherlands] though you can’t compare Ajax which has been around so long, with Toronto FC. I’m sure that in the future we’ll get the things we’ve been spending for.”
The Holland influence is no surprise. Winter is a close friend of Dutch star Johan Cruyff, Anselmi said.
“It’s modelled after the great soccer academies around the world,” Anselmi said. “What they did in Ajax, was taken to Barcelona, and now around the world. We’re trying to kick start it as quickly as possible.”
The TFC Academy, which has been in operation since about 2008, will take youths as young as 12 “and maybe drive that down to age 9,” Anselmi said.
Training will begin with Winter, “and there are people he’s going to bring in.”
There are close to 50 players enrolled in the existing TFC Academy. Current first-team players who are graduates include Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan, Keith Makubuya, Matt Stinson, Oscar Cordon and Nicholas Lindsay.
“It’s more than not having to arrange pitches any more. It’s having things close to you. Youth can train on the same facilities as the first team they watch in practice. They want to be on that team one day. They are the future of TFC,” Winter said.
“The biggest thing is to have a place ready where we can invite all the kids.”