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    On the Other Side - Carl Robinson on his time in Toronto and MLS Growth ahead of the Voyageurs Cup Final


    James Grossi

    Reason enough for some mixed emotions heading into Wednesday night's Canadian Championship decider as the two clubs meet in the second leg of the final to determine Canadian representation in the CONCACAF Champions League with the tie delicately poised – TFC leads 1-0 heading into BC Place.

    The Welshman joined the club prior to the inaugural season after a long career in England, spent mostly between the Premier and Football Leagues, as they prepared to embark on their debut campaign.

    “I knew it was a growing league, a development league, and I knew also they were trying to attract bigger players,” said Robinson from the KIA Training Ground last Thursday.

    “For me, it was a decision made to get on the coaching ladder. I saw opportunities for young managers and I was still at the right age of 29. It was a lifestyle decision for me, it wasn't financial. And I took the opportunity to join Toronto because they were a new franchise and Mo Johnson invited me in.”

    Robinson made some 84 appearances in all competitions for TFC, including eight Voyageurs Cup matches and two in the Champions League – he scored three goals over that period and was twice named Player of the Year (jointly with Brennan in 2007 and solo in 2008).

    His 74 MLS appearances account for 82.2% (repeating, of course) of the club's first 90 matches, encompassing those first three seasons. He was one of the brightest parts of an often dark origin.

    But with the start of the 2010 season, came a trade to New York, where he finished his career before taking up a coaching position in Vancouver; first as an assistant in 2012 and taking the full reigns ahead of the 2014 season.

    Since then, he has seen MLS grow immeasurably, little-by-little.

    “[The progression] has been phenomenal. It really has,” said Robinson. “It makes me laugh sometimes because it's growing every year, getting better every year. Players are getting better, the cap is rising, the coaches are getting better, the support is increasing... but,” he continued, “everyone wants to run before they can walk.”

    “Major League Soccer are doing a good job in letting it grow slowly, continuing the process rather than going all in. [Risking that] then there would be a massive drop off, or failure in some departments, and you'll have to reset again. All credit to MLS in the way they're growing, individual clubs, but also the league, at a steady pace.”

    Speaking from the glorious training grounds at Downsview Park, still in Toronto after Tuesday night's first leg ahead of a match in Philadelphia on the weekend – in his days, TFC wandered the city in search of parks or trained on the previous, artificial surface at BMO Field – Robinson shared his view on the progress he has seen in his teammates-turned-opponents.

    “In the two-and a half, three years I was here, there was a turnover of about 80-odd players – you get to know someone and you're saying goodbye to them the very next day,” recalled Robinson. “And I was one of them included when I left to go to the New York Red Bulls.”

    “The club is a very good club, they've got great ownership in MLSE. It's good people and they've got a little bit of stability now, and any club needs a bit of stability. Everyone wants to be successful in the short term, and happen overnight, but, unfortunately, that isn't football; it doesn't happen overnight.”

    “I'm glad for them they've managed to stabilize themselves and you see the growth in Toronto, they're bringing in the likes of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco. That's all credit to them,” he concluded.

    Whilst it may have been an unsatisfactory end to his time in Toronto, Wednesday, a chance to hoist a trophy over his former club, will still be awkward.

    “It is [weird going up against a former club],” said Robinson, adding, “but I've done it enough in England. I was fortunate enough to play for seven, eight different teams, and every week I seemed to be going up against my old team.”

    “I've got a lot of respect for the club, I've got a lot of friends still here. I'll always have that special feeling with supporters. Unfortunately, some of them won't like me now, because I'm manager of Vancouver – it is what it is. But nothing will change my thoughts on the club.”

    Robinson famously did not celebrate, appearing almost sheepish when he scored the coup-de-grace, a stunning header, in a 4-1 dismantling of TFC when he returned with the Red Bulls in 2010, but will he be so kind should Vancouver overturn the deficit on Wednesday?

    “Toronto are 1-0 ahead in the tie, so it's going to be difficult for us. I didn't celebrate, if you look at players who go back to their old clubs, 99% of them celebrate because they feel the way they left wasn't how they wanted – the way I left wasn't how I wanted – but the admiration for the club that I had was a mark of respect for them because I was here for two-and-a-half years, and it was good times.”

    “Life's too short to be bitter, so I wasn't and I didn't celebrate, and I'm glad I didn't.”

    Regardless of who wins on Wednesday, Vancouver or Toronto, with Robinson and his split history involved, it will be yet another moment to add to the growing folklore of Canadian soccer.

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