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From schools to homes, Toronto FC aims to please with new players

03/02/2015 10:07 EST | Updated 05/02/2015 05:59 EDT
After spending time away with the U.S. national team and at Toronto FC's training camp in Florida, Jozy Altidore looks to finally fit in some house-hunting this week before the MLS club leaves Thursday for its season opener in Vancouver.

The star forward will have plenty of help. TFC players have nothing but praise about how the franchise helps them settle off the field.

"The club has been first-class and how they treat every player here is fantastic," Altidore said prior to flying back to Toronto on Sunday.

Just 25, Altidore has already played in England, the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey and the U.S. So another move is not a shock to the system.

"It's part of your life as an athlete," said the U.S. international, whose home is in Florida. "You move a lot so I'm used to it. But you know when you step into a place and you feel at home right away so I'm not worried about it."

Corey Wray, Toronto FC's senior manager of team operations, is one of several front office staffers who help ensure new players have a soft landing.

Jaime McMillan, senior manager of team development, looks after many of the issues involving the player's family. Ted Tieu, co-ordinator of team operations, helps sort out work permits, banking and the like.

According to Wray, Tieu "perfected" the welcome package that goes to new players.

"It outlines pretty much everything you could want to know about the move to Canada," said Wray.

Available in multiple languages, it includes maps, neighbourhood guides and information on how to get a driver's licence and apply for a health card.

"Honestly every question we've been asked over the years is in the book," said Wray.

Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, also can help move mountains.

"We're very proud that we do have probably the industry-leading department when it comes to that," said Wray. "And that comes from just a belief the three of us had and with Tim now, to make sure that people are happy off the field."

Little things can become big, like a driver's licence.

Canada only has reciprocal programs with some countries. If you come from one that doesn't, you'll likely have to go through tests no matter how long you've been behind the wheel.

England has an agreement with Canada, which was good news for Jermain Defoe. Italy does not, which is not so good for Sebastian Giovinco.

Bottom line is the Atomic Ant will have to take a driving test although TFC will be working with the Italian embassy in a bid to cut red tape.

The club has had a go-to realtor for the last four to five years who helps find a roof for new players, be it Altidore or a draft pick.

While Defoe's deal had many layers, sometimes the big stars are the easiest to handle. Wray points to retired star Torsten Frings.

"Torsten was actually pretty easy. You have money and you get the best place you want and you furnish it and you move in," Wray said.

Frings lived in a condo at Maple Leaf Square, across the street from the Air Canada Centre. And the former German international felt at home driving a Mercedes.

College kids don't have money. Toronto isn't cheap. And the club wants such youngsters to live in a good neighbourhood, be able to get to training and "live life as a professional at the right level."

Younger players may have less requests "but by no means are they easy sometimes."

While there is a downside to Toronto's player turnover, it has helped the club perfect a sales pitch that includes a video showing off the team, the city and MLSE.

"I tell you once they watch the video there's not much selling after that because they become very, very intrigued," said manager Greg Vanney. "You see the fans in the video and how excited they are about the team. And the message is if we win, the city will be absolutely amazing."

Perhaps. But Wray and his colleagues help maintain that feel-good vibe.

"There is excitement about the fans, the stadium, our training facility. But at the end of the day, if they go home to a family that's upset or that second-guesses their move, that's a problem," Wray said.

Once a player has settled in, questions can keep coming.

Often the answers come from within the locker-room, from players who have already gone through the issue or just want to share.

"Ideally that's what we want," said Wray.

The club has even set up babysitting services to encourage players to enjoy the city so as to feel more at home.

"We find we get a lot out of the players when the families are happy. I think that's natural."

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