TFC coach taking positives from pre-season loss
Toronto FC's new coach Ryan Nelsen watches the action at the MLS team's training camp in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday, Feb.6, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Neil Davidson
The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, February 10, 2013 11:19AM EST
ORLANDO, Fla. -- If you missed the action and only heard the coaches' post-match comments, you might have been confused by what happened to Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact in their pre-season openers.
"Not everything was good," said Montreal manager Marco Schallibaum.
"I think everybody did really well," said Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen.
"That's a game that we'll look back on with a lot of positives from," he added.
Montreal won on the day, rallying to defeat Sporting Kansas City 2-1 at the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic. Earlier Saturday, Toronto FC lost 1-0 to the Columbus Crew at the same tournament.
Both coaches had more expansive comments on their side's efforts. Still the comparison sheds some light on their style and teams.
"Demanding but fair," Impact captain Patrice Bernier said of Switzerland's Schallibaum.
"Efficiency first," he added. "He's very charismatic, passionate, he likes football. He demonstrates it when he talks to us. The last three weeks (of camp) have been very good."
Having inherited a team that went 5-21-8 last season, Nelsen has been unwaveringly positive since taking over -- at least in public.
In practice, he is almost avuncular as he makes suggestions or grades his squad's performance on a drill.
Asked for his thoughts about backup Joe Bendik, who came in for the injured Stefan Frei in the first half against the Crew, Nelsen was positive and inclusive with his praise.
"I've got faith in all three 'keepers. They're very good. And Stewart (goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr) is doing a great job with them, working them really hard."
Nelsen makes a point of praising all his assistant coaches. In past regimes, you sometimes wondered if the top man knew their names.
Having just retired as a player himself, the former Queens Park Rangers and New Zealand defender also seems determined not to display the team's dirty laundry in public.
Nelsen and assistant coach Fran O'Leary made a point of -- diplomatically -- distancing themselves from team president and GM Kevin Payne's comments that some players had reported to camp out of shape. The coaches' official line was that all they know is what they have seen, and that the effort has been commendable.
Nelsen also made a point by selecting young midfielder Jonathan Osorio to his starting lineup against Columbus.
"He's a player that's come through the (Toronto FC) academy. He's worked really hard in the pre-season and I thought he did really well out there," Nelsen said. "There's three products from the academy that played out there today and that's really promising.
"I don't care if you're an academy player or you're Lionel Messi, whoever. If you perform well, you'll get your opportunities."
The Impact (12-16-6 in their debut season last year) can point to an academy success of its own, as substitute fullback Maxim Tissot set up Andrew Wenger's winner with an accurate, intelligent pass.
Nelsen used 23 players on the day, including Osorio, Daniel Fabrizi and Derrick Bassi from the academy. Clearly this was more about getting players minutes and looking to demonstrate the team shape.
The Crew had more of the possession but did little with it in the final third of the field. Toronto emptied its bench in the second half and the last wave of subs pressured the Columbus goal, with a Terry Dunfield header off an Ashton Bennett cross hitting the post in the final minutes.
The Toronto manager also liked what he saw in sophomore attacking midfielder/forward Luis Silva, who has been impressive in camp. Silva played off forward Justin Braun against Columbus.
"Luis's a fantastic player," Nelsen said. "We're just trying to get him into positions where we can maximize his strengths. He's been fantastic pre-season. He's had a great attitude, he's worked really hard and we're really excited about Luis.
"He's got to understand that at this level, everybody's got to be consistent. It's consistency that turns heads. With his work ethic, he's been top-drawer so far."
Irish defender Darren O'Dea has noticed a chance in Silva, who trained with Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany over the off-season.
"Last year he came in as a rookie and did fantastically well, but this year you can see he's walked in, he just looks that half a foot taller," said O'Dea. "I think he'll be a big part of us this year."
Both Schallibaum and Sporting Kansas City fielded strong lineups, making for a superior game to the Toronto-Columbus matchup.
The Impact manager will have liked what he saw in the experienced centre back pairing of Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari. Pocket-sized Italian striker Marco Di Vaio buzzed in his 60 minutes, scoring with a clinical finish after a beautiful through ball from Bernier.
Goalie Troy Perkins made a magnificent one-handed save off Ike Opara to preserve the win.
Schallibaum thought his team showed "a little panic" in the first 20 minutes but liked the second-half showing.
"We won the game. That's important for the morale. It's a nice day for us."
For Nelsen, a victory would have been a bonus.
"If you look back over the game, (it was) a set piece goal. That happens. To be fair, we haven't really done much on set pieces. We've been working more on open play.
"And on open play, I thought defensively we were very solid. And that's the foundation that Toronto has to work from. And as we progress, we'll tighten up everything."
NOTES -- Toronto defender Danny Califf, coming back from a knee injury, watched the Columbus game from the bench. "We're trying to hold the guy back. He's desperate to play," said coach Ryan Nelsen.