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Toronto FC takes on ‘yard’ flavour
March 16, 2009, 7:20 AM
Filed under: Johann Smith, O'Brian White, Rohan Ricketts, Toronto FC

Colonialism hitched Jamaica to British football’s wagon. But now local fans could be drawn beyond Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea to a league – and at least one particular team – closer to home.

Toronto FC, a fledgling United States Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise in a Canadian city heavily populated by Jamaicans, is taking on a distinct ‘yard’ flavour.

Despite the recent departures of Tyrone Marshall and Jeff Cunningham, when the club kicks off its MLS season on March 21, it could still feature a roster of three players with strong Jamaican roots, another star embedded in the country’s culture, plus a host of fans with ties to the island.

“Look, you always try to take the best guys available,” said Mo Johnston, Toronto FC’s director of soccer during the club’s recent preseason camp in the US. “Hopefully, we have the Jamaican flavour and maybe we can win the championship.”

The current flavour is brewed from the trio of O’Brian White, Rohan Ricketts and Johann Smith. Jamaica-born White, a highly touted rookie forward, is recovering from injury. But he has embraced the growing Jamaican influence at Toronto FC.

“Definitely,” said White, a 23-year-old native of Ocho Rios, who emigrated as a teenager to live in Canada with his mother. “When I got drafted, I looked at that because I knew Tyrone before … . Even though all the other guys are cool, it’s good to know somebody from your culture (is on the team).

” … So far I’ve had a lot of (Jamaican) friends who are telling me they are going to get my jersey and get my tickets and all that. It’s been a strong support so far.”

Both Ricketts’ parents and Smith’s mother are from Denham Town, west Kingston. The two played for Toronto FC in 2008. They recognise the Jamaican influx and the impact of representing ‘yard’.

“It should help the fan base,” said 26-year-old midfielder Ricketts, who was born in London, England, played for several British clubs, and was once called to the senior Reggae Boyz squad.

“We talk about Jamaica,” added US-born Smith, 21, a forward who also played professionally in England.

“We talk about our culture. When it’s time to go out, we have a full night out … . We go to Jamaican restaurants. We sit and eat, chat and we have a lot of things in common.”

The menu at team get-togethers may now feature as much jerked chicken and curried goat as burgers and fries; the music conversations more balanced between rock and reggae. The Jamaican connection even extends to Canada international Dwayne De Rosario, who has Guyanese parents, but whose father attended school in Jamaica. De Rosario still visits the island and his doctor is Jamaican. Growing up, he represented teams in Canada dominated by Caribbean players. He can speak Jamaican ‘patwa’.

“It’s good, it’s positive,” De Rosario, whose favourite album is Bob Marley’s Babylon by Bus, said of the Jamaican influence at Toronto FC.

“It’s good because it shows that the West Indies is always producing great talent.”

Toronto FC has already attracted a significant regional presence. Tribal Rhythm Nation, a passionate group of mainly Afro-Latin-Caribbean immigrant fans, descends on BMO Field with drums, whistles and banners to support the home team each game. Hundreds of Jamaicans also turned out to back the Reggae Boyz against Canada during a World Cup qualifier last August at the same stadium. Toronto FC’s players noticed.

“It seemed like there were mainly Jamaican fans,” said Ricketts.

So did the club’s management, which said it has scouted Jamaican talent and has been impressed, especially by the speed, athleticism and skill of the players. The technical staff attended a recent game played by Jamaica’s Under-20s. The club has no qualms about signing Boyz if they fit Toronto’s plans.

“No, no, no, no,” said coach John Carver. “If they’re 11 Jamaicans and they’re good enough (to win the MLS they’ll play) … . That’s how I look at it.”

Other MLS clubs have Jamaicans on their rosters. Marshall, who has moved to the Seattle Sounders and Cunningham to FC Dallas are among the big names. Andy Williams, Real Salt Lake; Omar Cummings, Colorado Rapids; Shavar Thomas, Chivas USA; and Dane Richards of New York Red Bulls are veterans scattered across America’s top league as well.

National goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts recently signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy, while Portmore United’s Eric Vernan has been invited to try out with DC United this season. In the past, national players Onandi Lowe, Christopher Dawes, Damani Ralph, Fabian Taylor, Jermaine Hue and Robert Scarlett have played in the MLS.

But Toronto FC appears to have secured the largest Jamaican cluster so far. One club official said the “cheaper” talent from the Caribbean could result in more arriving.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for young Jamaican players to come to,” Marshall said.

Meanwhile, with the MLS season beginning just as Britain’s is winding down, Jamaican football fans will have the option to cast their passion elsewhere.

“The England leagues have been there for so long,” said De Rosario. “A lot of Jamaicans went over there and have been successful. But now you have Jamaicans close to their own backyard, playing in the MLS, that maybe they should continue to support and pay attention to and see them as their careers grow.”

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Johann Smith On Croatian Trial
January 17, 2009, 10:30 PM
Filed under: Johann Smith, Toronto FC

Toronto FC midfielder Johann Smith is currently on trial with Croatian club NK Rijeka, a league source has told Goal.com’s Kyle McCarthy.

Former U.S. U-20 international and current U-23 pool member Smith, 21, joined TFC last August from English Premier League side Bolton Wanderers after struggling to break into Bolton’s first team during his three years in England and spending time on loan in the lower leagues with Carlisle, Darlington and Stockport. During his time at Bolton, Smith was selected to the U.S. team for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2007, but had to pull out with an injury.

Toronto FC sent allocation money to New England for the chance to move up in the allocation rankings to acquire Smith. The Connecticut native started just three times in ten total appearances for TFC last season.

The source said Smith isn’t particularly happy with his contract north of the border — Smith earns a base salary of $36,000, according to MLS Players Union documents from October — and wants a chance to return to Europe.

NK Rijeka is currently fifth in the Croatian league and won the Croatian Cup in 2005 and 2006.

Source: Click Here