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Toronto FC back in training camp, motivated by painful MLS Cup shootout loss

Toronto FC motivated by MLS Cup loss

TORONTO — There was no escaping Toronto FC’s painful MLS Cup final loss to Seattle for fullback Steven Beitashour.

He was reminded of the Dec. 10 penalty shootout defeat every day.

“Anyone that I talked to that I didn’t talk to the day before brought it up,” he said. “So it was often.

“Being home, seeing family and friends and relatives, every person brought it up. But it’s the nature of the beast. You just talk about it and you know that you gave it your all, which we did â€” every single player. But it was unfortunate that day.”

The bitter loss serves as motivation for Toronto players as they opened training camp after an off-season of little more than six weeks. But coach Greg Vanney is not lingering on the past.

His message to the team is simple.

“Last year is over,” he said. “We start a new process and a new journey this year. Our mindset and goal needs to be just to get better every single day. For me, our starting point this year should be better than it has been the last couple of years.”

Fullback Justin Morrow says he, for one, has got over his miss in the penalty shootout.

“I’m passed that. I’ve moved forward,” he said.

There has been subtraction but not much addition in the off-season other than the MLS SuperDraft, which netted Notre Dame centre back Brandon Aubrey and four other youngsters, and the signing of homegrown midfielder Sergio Camargo.

All 11 starters from the MLS Cup final are back.

Veteran midfielder Will Johnson (Orlando City) and reserve defenders Josh Williams (Columbus Crew) and Mark Bloom (Atlanta United) have left the fold. Reserve midfielders Daniel Lovitz and Chris Mannella as well as third-string goalkeeper Quillan Roberts have also moved on.

Toronto has made no secret of the fact that it is looking for an attacking midfielder to add some offence. Vanney says he only expects one or two additions.

There are currently some 34 players in camp including veteran French midfielder Benoit Cheyrou, whose new contract is nearing completion.

Star striker Sebastian Giovinco was front and centre Tuesday, cheerfully holding court with reporters in English for the first time.

“I think we’re a good team,” said the Italian, who has 39 goals and 31 assists in 61 regular season games with Toronto. “We’ve changed a little bit but we are almost the same as last year.”

Giovinco also reiterated that he is content in MLS, saying he had told friends back home: “I like (it) here and I’m happy.”

There was no mention of a “important offer” from China, detailed by his agent in an Italian website.

Asked about the agent’s claim, a Toronto spokesman said: “Nobody has contacted us.”

China has been offering huge contracts of late to lure talent to its domestic Super League.

Asked whether he had watched the MLS Cup final again, Giovinco looked at the questioner as if he had just been offered the chance to taste road kill. “No, no,” he said before tempering the possibility of a future viewing to “maybe.”

Quizzed about his improved English, Giovinco said: “I learn on the street.”

Captain Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore are still with the U.S. national team, which has games Sunday against Serbia and Feb. 3 against Jamaica. Midfielder Armando Cooper is expected back this week from Panama duty.

Trialists in camp Tuesday included Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Aikim Andrews, right wingback Jordan McCrary and tall Finnish centre back Johan Brunell.

Andrews spent some time training with TFC last season before an injury sidelined him. McCrary was taken 10th overall by the New England Revolution in the 2016 draft after a distinguished four-year career at the University of North Carolina. Brunell was scouted on video and at a pre-draft combine.

USL team players in the mix include highly touted striker Ben Spencer, who is back to full health.

After a day of medicals Monday, the players went through fitness and other tests Tuesday morning with a second session in the afternoon.

The team will train in Toronto this week before leaving Saturday for the warmer climes of Los Angeles. The squad will also spend time in Florida during the pre-season.

Toronto finished third in the East last year with a 14-9-11 record before dispatching Philadelphia, New York City FC and the Montreal Impact in the playoffs.

TFC opens the regular season March 4 at Real Salt Lake, one of three away games before the home opener March 31 against Sporting Kansas City.

Players like Morrow do not expect an easy ride given the success of 2016.

“It’s going to be a difficult year, for sure. This club has high aspirations and high goals,” he said. “And the league is going to be out for us … We need to be ready for that challenge.”

 

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

 

Star striker Sebastian Giovinco says he’s happy at Toronto FC. His agent says he needs to talk to the MLS club about a “important offer” from China.

“The Chinese club seems to be very interested, but I don’t think it’ll be easy to take him away from Toronto,” agent Andrea D’Amico told Sky Sport Italia, according to the Football Italia website.

“We received an important offer from China and we’ll talk to Toronto to decide, along with Sebastian, what to do.”

Asked about the agent’s claim, a Toronto FC spokesman said: “Nobody has contacted us.”

There was no mention of the Chinese offer when Giovinco met reporters at Toronto’s training camp Tuesday. But the Italian star reiterated he is content playing in North America.

“I like (it) here and I’m happy,” he said.

Giovinco, who turns 30 on Thursday, has torn through MLS defences in his first two seasons in MLS.

He won league MVP honours in 2015 when he scored 22 goals and added 16 assists. Last season, he had 17 goals and 15 assists despite missing six games through injury.

Giovinco earned US$7,115,555 last season, second only to Orlando City’s Brazilian star Kaka (US$7,167,500) in MLS.

Chinese clubs have been opening the vault of late to acquire foreign talent.

Argentine striker Carlos Tevez signed last month with Shanghai Shenhua, agreeing to a contract that a source said was worth US$40 million over two years.

Other players to sign in China include Brazilians Oscar, Hulk, Ramires and Paulinho, Colombian striker Jackson Martinez and Argentine forward Ezequiel Lavezzi.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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