If there’s one reason to put a smile on the faces of Toronto FC fans, it’s the pleasantly surprising goalkeeper situation which has provided TFC with some much needed consistency. It is near-ideal and not ideal however, with Stefan Frei still out for four to six months (I definitely wish him a healthy and speedy recovery).
With respect to past goalkeeping coach Mike Toshack, the TFC upper echelon clearly felt a change was needed. In stepped Stewart Kerr last December and things in the last line of defense have gelled, slowly but surely. Going into the season, with Milos Kocic and Frei both having equal chances in the race for starting keeper (kudos also need to be given to Brian Rowe for stepping in as emergency keeper on such short notice), there has recently been a third addition.
Seventeen-year old Quillan Roberts was welcomed to the first team on April 10th of this year, becoming the seventh player to graduate from the TFC Academy. His expected signing was finalized quicker than anticipated with the unfortunate Frei injury.
After yesterday’s morning training session in weather conditions that can probably best be referred to as freezing, I took part in the media scrum. The atmosphere wasn’t as tense as expected. Possibly as both players and reporters joked about rushing home to watch Barcelona v. Chelsea. Another classic Champions League match but that’s a story for a different day.
I was the only reporter to approach Quillan and Milos. Most of the reporters swarmed Aron Winter and Matt Stinson (understandably so). I approached Winter and shook his hand. The rumours are true. The man is a gentleman. When talking with Quillan, the first thought that crossed my mind is that, listed 6 ft 0 in and 193 pounds, he looks even bigger in person.
I ask Quillan about Stewart Kerr.
“Stewart’s just been a great asset to the club,” comments Quillan. “He’s brought in new tactics – things that we as keepers have to learn. In the end, it’s going to make our game better.”
Quillan speaks with respect when asked about Milos.
“Milos has taken on a bit of a leadership role – being a keeper, that’s what you have to do, right? You kind of quarterback it from the back line. He’s pretty big and he’s a big part of the team.”
With Frei down, does Quillan hope he can get in there?
“For now, I think I’ll just be playing in the Reserve games and maybe some Academy games but I’m not too sure. Always hoping I can get in (the first team). I think I’d be 100% ready if I went in so I’m just waiting for my opportunity.”
Both Roberts and Kocic exuberate confidence, calmness and a positive attitude. Q – as he is known by teammates – has many things going for him at such a young age and clearly has the commitment. Thus far, he has shown he possesses the talent to go with that commitment. Toronto FC (as with any other top-level club) definitely needs to have three signed goalkeepers at all times. Having said that, TFC is essentially a two-keeper system so Q will see some minutes sooner or later. He was definitely man of the match when I watched the Reserves play Columbus at BMO on March 31st.
Roberts’ signing may seem a risky choice to some however, as he’s opted for a professional contract rather than playing – and studying – in the NCAA. But two things should be noted. One, it’s equally risky getting an education first, not knowing if that pro opportunity will ever come after that and two, the level of training provided in the NCAA realistically can’t compare to that of a pro club.
Milos stopped to talk to me upon leaving the change-room. “Djuradj is my boy,” Milos tells TFC media relations coordinator Mike Masaro (who was very collected and organized in dealing with numerous requests from reporters seeking players to talk to).
With the Frings injury, has Kocic emerged as a leader – the on-field coach that Winter seeks?
“It’s just the way I am, I think,” Milos tells me. “I want to help the team and if I see a moment when the team needs a leader, I’ll step up but there are other players on the team who are leaders as well. We need to have more and more of them.”
Roberts himself is now in the position Milos was in when he first signed for Toronto back in 2010 (starting in third spot and working his way up). Kocic offers words of advice for young Quillan.
“Well, he’s young. He needs to listen and work hard. He’ll get there one day. He just needs to be patient and work hard and take things that he sees from us and take it positively. There’s plenty of time for him, he’s only 17. There’s plenty of time for him to progress.”
I looked for Stewart Kerr to comment but could not find him. I asked Milos about Kerr as well.
“Stewart is a great coach, he helped me a lot, improved my game and definitely opened my eyes to some things I hadn’t experienced before – positioning and stuff like that. It’s been great for me, it helped me a lot. Of course, I still have to work hard and improve my game but having him here, it’s been a great plus for me.”
The camaraderie among TFC’s keepers is definitely reason for positivity. Will these April showers bring May flowers in TFC as well? We all hope so.