TORONTO â€” Sebastian Giovinco played in it. So did Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo.
Now Toronto FC’s senior academy team â€” known as Toronto FC 3 â€” gets to follow in their footsteps by taking part in the 69th Viareggio Cup. Toronto is the first MLS side to take part in the prestigious youth tournament held annually in the Italian region of Tuscany.
The TFC team opens against S.S. Maceratese, the youth side representing an Italian third-division squad, on March 13, before facing defending champion Juventus on March 15 and Czech team Dukla Prague on March 18.
Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney says the chance to measure yourself against such talent is invaluable.
“It’s always enlightening and I always find it motivating for players, to have these opportunities,” said Vanney.
“They’re always positive experiences, no matter how it goes,” he added.
Vanney’s message to the squad was simple. “We go with real pride and belief in what we’re capable of doing.”
Former TFC striker Danny Dichio, now coach of Toronto FC 3, will lead the team. His under-20 squad has been augmented by midfielders Aidan Daniel, Liam Fraser and Luca Uccello and forwards Shaan Hundal and Malik Johnson, Toronto FC 2 players who make the age restrictions.
The tournament, which features 40 teams divided into 10 groups, runs through March 29. The top two teams from each group will advance to a single-elimination knockout competition.
“It’s probably the No. 1 (youth) tournament in Italy, for sure, and up there with the top three tournaments in Europe,” said Dichio.
Dichio welcomes the stiff competition at the tournament.
“For us to compete and to get a good gauge of where we’re at, we need to play against the best,” he said.
“For me as a player, I always wanted to play against the best. And it’s the same as a coach, I want to pit myself against the best coaches, I want to see the best teams, I want my players to play against the best players. It’s the only way we’re going to improve and develop our younger players.”
Dichio has only had about two weeks with his team ahead of the tournament. Some were away with the Canadian under-20 team while others were training with the TFC senior and USL squads.
Getting an invitation to the tournament involved networking by former Italian star player Roberto Bettega and Canadian international Bob Iarusci, who are friends, plus work behind the scenes by team president Bill Manning.
Dichio’s squad left Wednesday for Italy.
Toronto FC 3 Roster
Goalkeepers: Gianluca Catalano, Filippo Di Bennardo.
Defenders: Robert Boskovic, Andrew Dias, Julian Dunn, Steven Furlano, Brandon Onkony, Rocco Romeo, Nikola Stakic.
Midfielders: Dante Campbell, Aidan Daniels (TFC 2), Liam Fraser (TFC2), Marko Mandekic, Nicholas Osorio, Luca Petrasso, Kota Sakurai, Matthew Srbely, Luca Uccello (TFC2).
Forwards: Kunle Dada-Luke, Daniel Da Silva, Shaan Hundal (TFC 2), Malik Johnson (TFC2).
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press