MLS

Avila remembers his time at Toronto FC with fondness

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The Canadian Press
7/17/2013 9:19:22 AM
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It says something about the conundrum that is Toronto FC that Eric Avila only wants to talk about the good memories he has of the team that cut him adrift.

The slight midfielder, who now plies his trade for Chivas USA, remains a huge fan of the underachieving MLS franchise in Toronto.

"I really enjoyed my time there," he said in an interview Tuesday. "Obviously playing-wise was not as much as I wanted. But the experience of being up there and playing. And obviously playing in front of all the fans there, it's amazing."

On Wednesday, Avila and Chivas (3-11-5) will welcome Toronto (2-9-7) to the StubHub Centre in Carson, Calif., just south of Los Angeles.

Toronto may want to keep a close eye on the former Red. Avila, acquired in January by Chivas from Colorado after the MLS re-entry draft, has scored against both Montreal and Vancouver this season.

The 25-year-old from San Diego was a familiar sight to reporters covering Toronto FC. They often saw Avila, his cowboy-like gait and slim build hard to miss, getting off a streetcar en route to BMO Field.

"The city's amazing," he said of Toronto. "Obviously there's a lot of friendly people down there. ... I didn't have a car so I got to know the way through the streetcars and trains."

After signing a Generation Adidas contract as an elite underclassman, the former U.S. under-20 international was taken by FC Dallas 19th overall in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft. In four seasons for Dallas, Avila made 63 appearances.

He was traded to Toronto during the 2011 season, appearing in 33 games before being one of many players let loose after the disappointing 2012 season.

He has flourished at Chivas, a team like Toronto under reconstruction, and has seen action in 16 games. His two goals are tied for the team lead, which while good for Avila speaks volumes about the ineptitude of the Chivas offence.

When it comes to poor performance on the pitch, Toronto is almost unparalleled. The franchise, owned by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, could be a Harvard Business School study on how to and how not to run a sports franchise.

Off the pitch, the team was a hit out of the box as fans flocked to the no-frills but cosy stadium on the city's lakefront. But management could not deliver the product to match the fan fervour.

Now in its seventh season, Toronto has never made the playoffs and sports a woeful 47-97-62 regular-season record. TFC has only ever won 13 MLS games on the road.

Yet the team's support remains amazingly vibrant. Toronto, under new management yet again this season, stands 18th in the 19-team standings, but ranks eighth in attendance at 19,608 a game.

Is it any wonder that new MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke says Toronto FC has done "a lot of damage" to what he says was the best brand in MLS.

Avila, however, sees the glass as half-full. His faith in Toronto is based on that support despite the constant management and roster fluctuations.

"Don't get me wrong. Things are always changing there," he said.

But Avila remembers the packed stands and enthusiasm that filled the Rogers Centre when Toronto hosted the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy in a CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final in 2012.

He recalls how the city rallied behind the soccer team.

"For me, it's a taste of the success of what it could be," he said of the franchise.

Avila has also seen how Toronto looks after its players. The club's training centre in north Toronto is European-calibre, complete with a chef and well-appointed facilities. The club is also among the best in MLS in looking after and settling in its players. These days, a car service helps ferry players to the training base north of the 401 highway.

The turnover at Toronto has been such that only eight players on the current roster played with Avila last season. But the Chivas midfielder took time to seek out his old teammates in Los Angeles after TFC flew directly to the West Coast from their 3-0 loss Saturday in Kansas City.

"I have nothing but love for Toronto. It will be very exciting to play against them," said Avila, sounding like he really meant it.

At Chivas, Avila has re-stablished himself as a regular, albeit on a team with its own problems.

It's been a difficult season for the largely Hispanic franchise, which fired coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola in late May with the team languishing in the Western Conference basement with a 3-7-2 record.

Like Toronto, it has found goals hard to come by with just 17 in 19 games. Only D.C. United, with eight, has scored fewer goals.

Chivas has not won a league game since March 30, going 0-10-4 since. Prior to a 3-1 loss in Philadelphia last time out, however, the Goats had managed three straight ties against Montreal, FC Dallas and New England.

Chivas has been shut out nine times this season and managed to score more than one goal just four times. Since the end of April, Chivas has been outscored 24-5 in 11 league games.

Wednesday could mark the Chivas debut of newly acquired U.S. international defender Carlos Bocanegro. Another new face is Mexican forward Erick (Cubo) Torres.

Chivas is playing its fourth game in two weeks, returning home after an 0-1-2 road trip that included a 1-1 tie in Montreal.

Toronto continues a busy portion of the schedule when it hosts Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bull (9-7-4) on Saturday.

Eric Avila (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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