It wasn’t much of an off-season for two Toronto FC youngsters looking to make their mark with the first team in 2016.
Jay Chapman and Chris Mannella are looking to parlay successful developmental campaigns in 2015 into minutes with the big club. Both players spent the off-season in the young pros program, dedicating their time off to continuing to learn the game in a professional environment at the Kia Training Ground. Chapman and goalkeeper Alex Bono also spent time on trial with Spanish club Elche.
Sure there was some downtime mixed in before the pair jetted off with the team for the first phase of training camp in Southern California, but what the coaching staff told them at the end of 2015 weighed heavily on both Canadians.
“I think they wanted me to accept my role that I’ll play with this team,” Chapman said following the club’s first training session on Thursday. “I’ll be playing in more of a winger role, so [Vanney] told me to find a player that I can mirror my game after.”
Chapman selected two: Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore and Justin Meram of the Columbus Crew, two players that started out centrally but ultimately moved to the outside. The former Michigan State standout wasn’t just watching them, either.
“I watched game film of the appearances I had last year, seeing things I did well and things I need to work on,” said Chapman.
The off-season instructions for Chris Mannella were different.
“Specifically, [the coaching staff] told me to work on finding certain pockets and trying to play in front of the back four when we’re building out of the back,” said Mannella.
It’s something Michael Bradley excels at, and though Mannella didn’t make an appearance with the first team in 2015, he did travel with the squad several times. He had front row seats to watch a player the coaching staff thinks he can emulate.
“When you see the game from up close it’s a lot faster than you see on TV or even from the stands,” added the 21-year-old. “I matured a lot over the year. I learned to be patient with the ball and sort of take my time and make the right decision and I can only hope for more lessons like that in the upcoming year.”
The Reds added veteran midfielder Will Johnson during the off-season, creating even more depth at a position that boasts plenty of technically gifted players. Minutes will be hard to come by for both Chapman and Mannella, but the duo remain optimistic.
“You never know,” said Mannella. “I’m obviously pushing to not only be on the bench [with the first team] again but also to make an impact. I’m just going to keep working hard everyday and see what happens.”
“I think coming into this year I feel a lot more prepared than last year,” added Chapman. “I understand what the coaching staff wants me to do a lot more. Coming into this season already knowing how we want to play and being much more comfortable with the guys is going to give me a much better opportunity.”
That chance might not come right away, but it’s a long season. With a glut of international fixtures set to take place this year both Chapman and Mannella could get an extended opportunity to prove their development remains on track.
Both players appear ready for that task.