Written by Pat McGuinness @ Pat’s Football Blog
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Liverpool kick off their North American tour this coming Saturday with a friendly against Canadian side Toronto FC at the city’s 47568-capacity Rogers Centre stadium (formerly known as the Sky Dome).
Four days later, they are due to play AS Roma at Boston’s Fenway Park, property of Liverpool’s owners FSG.
The tour is scheduled to conclude on 28/6/12 with a game against Spurs at the M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Liverpool fans the world over will doubtless be familiar with AS Roma and Spurs, but what of Toronto FC? The club, like Liverpool known as The Reds (or, indeed, TFC), was formed as recently as 2006 and joined the Major Soccer League (MLS) a year later.
However, early results were far from encouraging, and the club finished bottom of the MSL Eastern Conference division in its first two seasons in the competition. Curiously, although the team, then managed by ex-Scotland international Mo Johnston, were scraping along in the depths of the MSL, their BMO Field stadium was regularly filled to the brim with red-clad Toronto fans making lots of noise.
The stadium is widely regarded to be Canada’s first “soccer-specific” ground, and has a current capacity of 21859. The fans have managed to keep their reputation as one of the most fanatical sets of supporters – if not the most fanatical – in the MLS, and the club’s fortunes have also improved as time has moved on; if not in the MLS, then at least in the Canadian Championship.
Toronto have won the Canadian Championship, a competition which also features FC Edmonton, Montréal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and is designed to provide a team to represent Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League, four times in a row since 2009. Impact, who won the competition in its inaugural year in 2008, beating the Reds in the final, were Toronto’s victims in the 2012 semi-finals.
The Reds were drawn to play away against Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the first-leg of the final, which was played on 16/5/12. Ryan Johnson put the visitors in front midway through the second-half before Frenchman Eric Hassli put the Whitecaps level in injury-time.
The second-leg took place at the BMO Field a week later, Toronto dominated proceedings in a physical encounter – both teams had a player sent off – and Reggie Lambe ensured that the Canadian Championship trophy would stay in the Toronto trophy-cabinet for another year with the only goal of the game with seven minutes left. The Whitecaps, in both their previous and current incarnations, have now lost every Canadian Championship final they have played in – all of them to the Reds.
Toronto have still to make it into the MLS play-off series, having come closest to achieving that feat in 2009, losing out by a single point after a heavy defeat to New York Bulls. Former Dutch international Aron Winter replaced Johnston at the start of 2011, but the club still failed to reach the play-offs even though they had lost only 2 out of their last 12 games.
The Reds’ 2012 season got off to the most traumatic start when they lost their first nine games, finally getting off the mark with a 1:0 home win over Philadelphia Union at the end of May. They are currently bottom of the Eastern Conference, though their form has improved lately, and have been unbeaten so far this month, winning their last three games after drawing away to Dallas FC at the start of July.
Despite their domestic disappointments, Toronto reached the semi-finals of the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League, the first Canadian team ever to do so, losing 7:3 on aggregate to eventual runners-up Santos Laguna, drawing 1:1 at home at the end of March before losing the return 6:2 on 4/4/12.
Winter stepped down as first-team manager last month and was replaced by ex-Ipswich Town & England international Paul Mariner, who, before Winter’s departure, was working in a technical capacity for Toronto.
Although most of the Toronto squad might seem unfamiliar to audiences outside the MLS, there are one or two well-known players in the team, such as former Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich star Torsten Frings, who also won 79 caps for his country and signed for the Reds in June last year, and Jamaican international Ryan Johnson. Danny Koevermans is a name familiar to many PSV Eindhoven and AZ Alkmaar supporters; he joined Toronto at the same time as Frings after spending four seasons at PSV.
The team also features Canadian internationals Terry Dunfield and Adrian Cann, Bermudan international Reggie Lambe, and Richard Eckersley, who won a League Cup medal with Manchester United in 2009 before drifting down to the lower divisions and eventually to Canada, signing for Toronto at the tail-end of January.
One player Liverpool will not be facing is Canadian international Julian de Guzman, who was transferred to Dallas FC last week in exchange for Andrew Wiedeman.
Toronto have had a very up-and-down season, having won a cup competition and coming quite close to appearing in the final of another, but still finding themselves marooned at the bottom of their domestic league. They will be looking to finish off their season in some style, and who better for Mariner’s lads to pit their wits against than Liverpool, whose manager Brendan Rogers is busy ringing the changes at Anfield?
Liverpool will be expected to win the game, but Toronto will have a point to prove. The game itself, again, will take place on 21/7/12 and kick-off is at 16:00 local time, 9pm in England.
GOALKEEPERS: 24 Stefan FREI, 30 Milos KOCIC, 40 Quillan ROBERTS
DEFENDERS: 2 Logan EMORY, 3 Miguel ACEVAL, 4 Doneil HENRY, 5 Ashtone MORGAN, 12 Adrian CANN, 20 Ty HARDEN, 21 Aaron MAUND, 25 Jeremy HALL, 27 Richard ECKERSLEY, 31 Dicoy WILLIAMS
MIDFIELDERS: 8 Eric AVILA, 11 Luis SILVA, 15 Matt STINSON, 16 Oscar CORDON, 19 Reggie LAMBE, 22 Torsten FRINGS, 23 Terry DUNFIELD, 37 Nicholas LINDSAY
FORWARDS: 7 João PLATA, 9 Ryan JOHNSON, 13 Keith MAKUBUYA, 14 Danny KOEVERMANS, 32 Andrew WIEDEMAN
MANAGER: Paul MARINER