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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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O’Brian White starts jogging
February 27, 2009, 8:29 AM
Filed under: O'Brian White, Toronto FC

Toronto FC forward O’Brian White has stepped up his training this week as he continues to recover from an ACL injury. White is with the team in Florida for preseason training and has now started jogging.

The 23 year-old was selected in the first round, fourth overall by Toronto FC Director of Soccer Mo Johnston in the MLS SuperDraft in St. Louis last month after a very successful college career. He won the highest individual honour in U.S. collegiate soccer in January 2008 when he received the M.A.C. Hermann Trophy as the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s most valuable player.

White scored six goals in 14 games in 2008 before suffering an ACL injury in October that ruled him out for the rest of the year.

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White happy with progress
February 16, 2009, 10:48 AM
Filed under: O'Brian White, Toronto FC

TFC SuperDraft pick O’Brian White joined the team in Florida last week as he continues rehabilitation from an ACL injury. White is happy with his progress: “I’ve been cleared to start jogging and am looking forward to working with the staff at TFC,” White told Toronto FC TV. Watch now >

TFC heads to Sunshine State
February 5, 2009, 9:42 PM
Filed under: MLS Preseason, O'Brian White, Toronto FC

With the temperature hovering around -13 in Toronto Thursday, it was the perfect time for Toronto FC to head south.

After the team officially opened training camp earlier this week with players reporting for medicals and fitness testing, the Major League Soccer club will fly to Florida on Friday for a week-long training camp that will include playing a pair of exhibition games against the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls.

“I’m looking forward to getting in a different climate, taking in a bit of sunshine because I miss the sun,” Toronto coach John Carver joked with reporters on Thursday.

The Florida trip will be Carver’s first opportunity to see several of the team’s new players up close, including Dwayne De Rosario (the club’s major off-season signing), and top draft picks such as goalkeeper Stefan Frei, midfielder Sam Cronin and forward Kyle Hall.

“It’s a chance for me to see the new guys. I know all about Dwayne, but I want to see him play in a Toronto shirt, and see Stefan, and Sam and Kyle Hall, because he’s caught my eye since camp started,” stated Carver.

“It’ll be a chance to evaluate the new guys, but also to see how far we are with regards to the players’ fitness levels.”

Forward O’Brian White, the No. 4 overall pick in January’s draft, will meet up with the team for the first time in Florida. White won the Hermann Trophy in 2007 as the top college player in the U.S., but he missed most of last season because of a knee injury.

Carver wouldn’t say when White would be cleared to play.

“He has a meeting with a specialist on Feb. 9 and then he’s meeting up with us in Florida,” Carver said. “I think it’s important he comes in to meet the guys and takes part in team bonding. He’s starting his rehab program once our medical team have assessed and had a look at him.”

The Toronto coach revealed that he plans to experiment with several formations and lineups in the pre-season, and that he’s more concerned with how the team gels and plays together, as opposed to winning games.

“When you talk about pre-season, this is something I can play around with because nothing is at stake really, so I can mess around with formations and play different ways,” Carver explained.

“Sometimes things hit you in the face by accident … unless you try things you never know. When you have a situation like pre-season, you can try different things. I’m not really interested in results in pre-season.”

That said, Carver did admit he’s looking forward to March when the team participates in the Charleston Cup, a four-team competition staged in South Carolina. Last year, Carver’s Toronto side finished with a record of 0-2-1 in the tournament, as the San Jose Earthquakes took the title.

“I must admit when we get to Charleston, I want to put the record straight after what happened last year because that wasn’t good enough,” stated Carver. “Because it is a competition, I want to go down there and I want to win it, because it [gives us] confidence leading up to that first game of the regular season.”

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