MLS

TFC players bond during light-hearted training session

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The Canadian Press
3/21/2013 5:23:53 PM
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TORONTO -- It was literally bottoms up Thursday as a depleted Toronto FC squad wrapped up a light-hearted but enthusiastic training session.

A group of the MLS team's midfielders had emerged as losers of a frenetic training drill in the penalty box that saw players divided by position vying to score the most goals as coaches drove the ball into the crowded area.

When it ended, the losers trudged to the goal-line while the rest of the squad and coaches lined up balls on the edge of the box.

The midfielders, their backs facing their teammates, dropped their shorts, bent over and presented bare bottoms. Then, one by one, the rest of the squad fired balls at them.

"It was pretty funny," said midfielder Jeremy Hall, one of those on the losing end. "I just wanted to make sure I stayed away from Terry (Dunfield) because Terry was doing a little trash-talking out there.

"Yeah, I was happy we didn't get hit. A couple of whistlers that you heard that would have been real painful but we managed to escape pain-free."

Hall was smiling as he recounted the near misses.

It was an exercise in baring bums and bonding, and showed the spirit of a rebuilding Toronto FC (1-2-0) under Ryan Nelsen.

The new manager, it must be noted, seemed to take great care in aiming well over his players so he didn't connect during the penalty "punishment" phase.

Nelsen opted for some fun Thursday under the bubble at the club's training centre.

Part of that was due to the fact that he had put the team through two intense practices earlier in the week on the artificial turf. Plus he was missing almost a third of his roster to international duty or other reasons (he gave several English players and veteran defender Danny Califf an extra day off so they can return home for a long weekend to bring belongings back) given his team has a bye this weekend.

"Sometimes you can over-water a flower," Nelsen explained.

Still the team spent two hours on the pitch but it was mostly in pursuit of fun.

Players giggled and guffawed as they competed in a game that seemed to draw on everything from rugby to Aussie Rules Football. Then they faced off in team challenges that included passing the ball over their heads and through the legs.

Next a more serious drill combining passes, crosses and shots that had goalkeepers Joe Bendik and Stefan Frei flying through the air.

It all managed to be both professional and enjoyable.

"Today was just a good, fun day," said Hall. "Still hard-working, very competitive. Nobody wanted to lose."

With the next practice not scheduled until Monday, players looked forward to a long weekend in advance of preparations for a March 30 game against the Los Angeles Galaxy (1-0-1) at BMO Field.

The Galaxy have a date at the White House first. The MLS champions, along with the Stanley Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings, are slated to be honoured by President Obama on Tuesday.

Some of the Toronto players staying around town plan to take in Saturday's Monster AMA Supercross at the Rogers Centre.

But Nelsen will be hard at work. He plans to do some scouting.

"There's not enough hours in the day," he said cheerfully.

Nelsen is paying a price personally to focus on his new team. His wife and two children are still in England where his five-year-old son is still at school (they also have a two-year-old daughter).

"I'm so lucky, they're really understanding," he said. "And they know I'm a bit of a workaholic so they're used to me.

"Luckily I've got a pretty good wife. I'm batting well above my average," he added with a smile.

Nelsen's family came over for the home opener before returning to England.

"I miss them so much," said the 35-year-old. "But I'm looking forward to them when they come to Toronto so they can wreak havoc on BMO Field and run out on the field and go crazy."

Andrew Weiderman (Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images)
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