SPORTS

After emotional Cup win, Toronto FC looks to keep rolling against Seattle

03/16/2012 12:52 EDT | Updated 05/16/2012 05:12 EDT
SEATTLE - Coming off opposite experiences in the CONCACAF Champions League, Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders meet Saturday to kick off their MLS season.

Toronto is on a high after eliminating the MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy. Seattle was schooled in its quarter-final, trounced 6-1 in Mexico by Santos Laguna.

"It's a plus what we achieved in L.A.," said goalkeeper Milos Kocic. "If we get another plus, it will be an unbelievable week."

Toronto is 1-4 in its previous MLS season openers, all away from home. The lone win came in 2009 when Toronto beat Sporting Kansas City 3-2 on two goals by Amado Guevara and one by current TFC academy under-17 coach Jim Brennan.

Overall, Toronto has been outscored 12-5 in its openers and been blanked three times.

Winter will no doubt have advised his team to forget Seattle's 6-1 loss — or remind them that the aggregate was 3-3 before the MLS side gave up four second-half goals Wednesday — and instead remember that the Sounders defeated Santos Laguna 2-1 at home in the first leg.

While both teams had to play midweek, Toronto's travel schedule was relatively benign considering it arrived in California three days ahead of its match against the Galaxy. Kocic says that allowed five or six players who were under the weather to recover in time.

Seattle, meanwhile, had to fly to Mexico and back.

Kocic acknowledged Toronto might be "a little bit emotionally tired" coming off its big win.

"But they'e tired as well. They travelled to Mexico so no excuses on that side," he said. "I'm looking forward to the (Seattle) game. And I think the whole team is looking forward to the game."

Despite the midweek loss, the Sounders have an excellent pedigree.

Seattle is coming off a 2011 season that saw it finish runner-up to the Galaxy in the standings with a record of 18-7-9. Toronto FC was 16th with a 6-13-5 record.

The Sounders were also 9-4-4 at home last year while Toronto was 1-9-7 on the road.

But last season was one of transition for Toronto as Winter remade his roster. Entering his second year at the helm, the coach was able to design his own training camp and Kocic says the team is a happy group headed into the MLS regular season.

"We look much better than last year when we started the season," he said. "We have a very good core group of guys. . . We already know each other, we can trust each other. We know what we want from each other.

"It looks much better than last year."

The six-foot-four 'keeper from Serbia says the team is just as close off the field.

"We have a great friendship — there are no groups (cliques). Usually you have groups of players hanging out with each other but it's different on our team. We have no groups.

"We celebrate together, we hang out together. We do stuff as a team."

Kocic doesn't know whether he will start Saturday at CenturyLink Field.

Winter opted for Stefan Frei in the opening leg of the Galaxy series before switching to Kocic for the rematch.

Kocic seems unconcerned, knowing he probably won't find out until game day.

"We're going to wait to see," he said.

Frei was the starter to open last season but Kocic finished as No. 1.

And Kocic was impressive in his game against the Galaxy, stopping Robbie Keane twice including a 74th-minute stop in which the goalie seemed to have befuddled the Irish international as he was sent in alone.

Toronto's home opener is March 24 against the San Jose Earthquakes.

NOTES — Seattle forward Eddie Johnson lasted just 19 minutes Wednesday because of a hip flexor injury. ... Canadian Olympic coach Tony Fonseca is hoping Toronto FC will release Ashtone Morgan for the CONCACAF qualifying tournament starting next week. TFC has already OK'd Doneil Henry and Matt Stinson.

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