Laying Down Roots

Toronto FC is laying down roots.

Monday the Major League Soccer team announced an ambitious plan for a training facility to be used by the senior team. The complex will also house the team’s youth academy.

The joint facility will be built on a 14-acre parcel at Downsview Park in North York.

The complex will include three grass fields, one of them heated, and a FieldTurf field topped by a winterized bubble. Also planned is a 40,000 square foot fieldhouse with locker rooms, training facilities and team offices. And for the present and future Stefan Frei, a dedicated goalkeeper training area.

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Downsview Park is home to a host of recreational facilities and sporting associations.

While the emphasis has been on the bricks and mortar, the purpose of the development far exceeds the team’s need for a permanent practice site. It comes down to supply and demand.

“The talent pool (from feeder leagues) is a little thin so development is key,” said Director of Player Development Paul Mariner. “We’ve got to grow it from the bottom and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Initiated in 2008, the Academy is home to 50 players.

“The younger you start the better it is,” said Doneil Henry, the first Toronto FC player to graduate to the big club. “So if you reach the senior team, you have a feeling, an understanding. Look at Barcelona. Seven players from that team came up together.  Those players have been together nearly their whole life.”

Coach Aron Winter agreed that the only way to thrive long-term is to develop young players who, to use an old expression, are singing from the same hymn book.

“How young you start, the better your team should be and the easier it is to teach,” Winter said. “From team to team, we want the players playing the same way.  That way they know what the tasks are and know what we are doing from each position.”

President and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Richard Peddie said the facility will bring a meaningful change to young male players.

“It is going to be the epicentre for development in Canada. If you have an ambition to be a professional, this is the place you are going to go.  For us, we are reaching down to age 11. The moment that child joins the academy, they are taught the Toronto FC way of playing.”

MLSE will invest $17.5 million for the facility. The company will pay an annual rent to Downsview for use of the land.

Construction begins May 2011. The fields will be completed in April of 2012 with the field house coming on line a month later.