Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By JOSE M. ROMERO
CASA GRANDE, Ariz. — On a frigid desert evening in practically the middle of nowhere, in front of a handful of people, a Major League Soccer veteran played through a groin injury.
That last part probably wasn't good news for Toronto FC, which opens full-team preseason training for 2011 in just a few days. Central defender Nana Attakora went up for a ball during the first half of a training match for Canada's U-23 Olympic team Thursday night and landed awkwardly. But he kept playing, and afterward, holding a bag of ice over his inner thigh, expressed his excitement about his club's new direction.
Toronto FC named Paul Mariner new technical director and Aron Winter head coach earlier this month. Attakora, only 21 but a veteran of all four of TFC's seasons in existence, looks forward to playing for Winter.
"To see that the club wants more stability now, that's what they've said and every year there's been a new coach, I'm excited," Attakora said. "He (Winter) brings a different element, something different that Toronto hasn't experienced yet. Total soccer."
Attakora hasn't met his new coach and admits to knowing only what teammate Julian de Guzman has told him about Winter, but likes what he's heard. He's expecting what he labeled an FC Barcelona style of play: a lot of possession and attacking options.
"Last year we had a more defensive mentality, which caused us a lot of problems because you can't defend for 90 minutes in today's soccer," Attakora said. "I think the new coach is going to help us build from the back into an attack. It will help us a lot. We'll be able to last longer in games."
Winter will be Attakora's sixth head coach as a player for Toronto FC. He's learned from each one but cites an inability to adapt to so many coaching styles that he hopes will settle down with a longer term for Winter.
Last year, with Preki as head coach until the final month of the season, Attakora said formations would change from week to week and there wasn't a consistent starting lineup.
"Some of our players didn't get accustomed to the kind of football he wanted to play," Attakora said of Preki. "A lot more behind the ball, a lot of running. It was just more defensive. When Preki was there we were a lot better defensive team, so there was positives and some negatives there. But we didn't have the flair going forward, and that eventually caused us problems."
TFC hasn't made the playoffs since it began MLS play in 2007, and as one of the most highly-supported teams in the league, fans want a winner.
"Our fans want to see results, and this year we need to start getting them," Attakora said. "The one thing that I think we need help with is a lot more attacking-minded players, a lot more creative players. In today's game, midfielders are able to interchange, playing right or left. That causes other teams a lot of problems. If we could get that, it would make us a tough team to play against."
Attakora hopes to remain with TFC for a long time. He was raised in Ontario and said he can't see himself playing anywhere else in MLS.
"The fans actually want results. They actually want to see a winning team, and that's special," Attakora said.