This time last year, the Toronto Lynx
camp was buzzing with the promise of many things. As a result of
many factors (not the least of which being a huge degree of mass
uncertainty in numerous areas), the only promise delivered was an
early end to the 2001 season. The team played well, they battled
hard deep into stoppage time, but the Lynx were put to rest early.
Some would say unfairly, others would say just desserts;
regardless, 2001 ended with an unsteady feeling of opportunity
lost and an obvious need to retool.
Flash-forward to April 2002 and the first official Lynx press
conference of the new season. Upon walking into the reception
hall, one couldn't help but notice a palpable sense of ease,
confidence, and philosophical change. Several new sponsors have
signed on to promote the team, they have a new revamped facility
to play in, many new faces will be wearing the gold and black on
the pitch, and there is a definite prevalence of the mindset
'there's nowhere to go but up'.
This is a very realistic goal for the team, and one they intend
to meet through a subtle change in dynamics…and a good
old-fashioned helping of whoop-ass. Their pre-season has gone very
well, the players have gelled together much easier than in the
past. This is the obvious result of keeping a strong core of
contributors from last season (including the 2001 Rookie of the
Year, Robbie Aristodemo), promoting a smattering of young hopefuls
from local futbol depots, returning no less than three
highly-regarded former Lynx alumni (Elvis Thomas, Milan Kojic,
Nikola Vignjevic), and one wild card up front (former Wolves and
Rough Riders striker, Irasto Knights) which could quite possibly
bring the team Aces High.
No one here is living under any false notions of cakewalks; the
A-league continues to be increasingly competitive. However, all
facets of the Toronto Lynx are steadfast in their new season's
beginning and where it's going to end. Coach and GM Peter
Pinizzotto has two main benchmarks for the 2002 season: to
increase the goal tally up front, and return the team to the
post-season (which it missed last year after such a great run in
2000). "Like I said last season, you can't win without goals, and
we just didn't get them when we really needed them. That's why
we're very excited about Irasto coming to play here, he's got a
reputation for being able to tear a defense apart and really
finish." (Knight's best season was in 2000 with the Long Island
Rough Riders, good for 19 points, including 8 goals).
Pinizzotto continued "we're very happy to have Vignjevic back
too, who left us after the 2000 season ended to be with his family
(back in Serbia). He's proven he can score when it matters and
he's always played well for Toronto". (Vignjevic is tied as the
Lynx all-time leading point scorer at 58).
The midfield and defense, always Toronto's strongest suit,
essentially remains unchanged, save the welcome return of Milan
Kojic to bolster the back line tandem of Adrian Serioux, Mauricio
Vincello, captain Marco Reda and Joe Mattacchione. The midfield,
already padded with the aforementioned Aristodemo, battle-savvy
Brian Ashton and the slippery duo of David DiPlacido and Bobby
Randhawa, can now work a myriad of combinations with a pair of
promising rookies, Nikola Budalic and Shawn Faria.
"They both had had great pre-seasons and training camps", said
Pinizzotto, "we're expecting good things from those two. It's hard
passing over a veteran like Lyndon Hooper, but when you have a
chance with so many talented young guys, you want to give them a
chance and bring them along when you think they're ready."
In goal, stalwart giant Theo Zagar still stands tall, backed up
by another new face, Pedro Viera. (Yuri Elkaim opted not to return
this season for unknown reasons).
There are still a few slots on the team roster to fill
(Argentine midfielder Waldo Sponton is still being considered to
return, for example), and many initial possibilities have been
deep-sixed (Darren Tilley will definitely not be part of the team
as originally anticipated. The reasons for this will differ based
upon who is offering, but officially his level of commitment
conflicted with what the Lynx required). Quite refreshingly,
Toronto have not made player selections this time around based
upon unsubstantiated hearsay (2001's bargain basement white
elephant, Kristian Grzetic) or former glory (the disastrous last
stand of once-impressive Francisco Dos Santos). They have been
meticulous and discriminating; unpopular traits to be sure, but
required to stay competitive and fearsome.
Over the course of the press conference and ensuing lunch, many
of the players mingled amongst the media to field any and all
questions, and it was quickly apparent the team simply feel good
about their forthcoming season (April 20th's 2-1 loss to the
Pittsburgh Riverhounds notwithstanding). This is not nearly enough
to ensure a successful 2002 campaign, but it's a good start. As
Marco Reda said when addressing the assembled media, "I'm not
going to say the things up here I said last year, but this is a
good team and we're going to do what we can to bring us back to
the Toronto Lynx of 2000." Lynx fans could ask for nothing more.