Chencinski enjoys breakout season in Finland, hopes for Hart’s call

Canadian keeper Tomer Chencinski had a breakout year in Finland.

Tomer Chencinski has just returned to Toronto, after the keeper enjoyed a breakthrough season in the Finnish league.

But he’s not taking any time off to rest. Chencinski is already working out with a personal trainer, getting ready to for the 2012 season.

“I am in preseason for the preseason,” says Chencinski.

The question is, to where will he go next season? Will it be VPS, the Finnish club where he’s become the undisputed No. 1? Or will it be Swedish side Orebro SK, where he trialed right before he came back to Toronto?

After a breakthrough season in Finland, Chencinski was invited to Sweden and is now waiting for word from his agent on whether or not a contract offer will come from Orebro. If not, he will be back with VPS.

“The training went very well,” he says. “I felt comfortable, I felt like the coaches were pleased with what they saw. I was very happy to get the opportunity, and we’ll see what comes of it… Obviously, in the short term, Sweden is the better move. But, long term, looking for my career, it’s a question of how many games will I get. I know that at VPS I will play at least 30 games next season.”

Orebro signed veteran keeper Jonas Sandqvist earlier this week; Sandqvist played in Norway the previous season. If Chencinski goes to Sweden, Sandqvist would likely be his competition for playing time.

Chencinski, who turns 27 in December, has struggled to find playing time through his career. He was a back-up to Greg Sutton in Toronto FC’s debut season back in 2007 — but didn’t get into an MLS game. He’s played in Harrisburg, Pa. He’s played in Moldova. But his big break came this season; he got the shot to be the No. 2 keeper at VPS, and didn’t settle for it.

Tomer Chencinski in action.

“I finally got the chance to prove myself. When I got to Finland, they (VPS) told me they already had a number one, but they had a vacancy for a number two. But, I am not the type of player who is ever going to say that I am excited to be the number two. So, from day one, I worked hard and wanted to prove myself. Then, six games in, the coach decided to give me a shot, and I kept my place for the rest of the season.”

By the end of the season, Orebro’s scouts came calling.

“Basically, it came really quickly,” he says. “It was a bit of a surprise for me, coming off my first season in the Finnnish league.”

As the Finnish season would down, Chencinski heard whispers that he was being scouted, but he put it out of his mind.

“Then, two to three games before the end of our season, they were still paying attention. Then, a week before the end of the season, they said, ‘yeah, we want to bring you in.’ They talked to my agent and he messaged me that I would go there on the Sunday after the season.”

The season ended on a Saturday. The next day, Chencinski made the way from Vaasa, in northwest Finland, to Helsinki. He flew to Stockholm and then took train to Orebro. He got in at about 7 p.m. on that Sunday, and was on the pitch Monday morning.

If Chencinski goes back to VPS, he’ll need more support from his team. VPS finished the season in ninth place in the 12-team league. The issue? The side had the worst offensive output in the league. With just 32 goals in 33 league games, VPS didn’t even hit the goal-per-game mark.

“All season long, we struggled to put the ball in the net,” says the keeper. “And, yes, it did put a lot of pressure on me. I can make five, six or seven saves in a game, but if they score a great goal… I can play as well as I can, but I couldn’t win games for them.”

And what was the atmosphere like? The team plays in a small stadium — and, judging from Chencinski’s description, a VPS match would be a lot like going to see FC Edmonton play at home.

“We have a great supporters’ group, but our average attendance was around 3,000 a game. In Finland, the problem is that hockey is number one. But we had good fans, and if the team is winning, then more people come out to games. Our lowest crowd, I think, was just under 2,000. But the team wasn’t winning.”

And, while Chencinski was one of many Canadian players who only had a short stay with Toronto FC, he bears no ill will towards his (adopted) hometown team.

“With Toronto, it was a new franchise, the coaches saw me in training, and they liked what they saw, and I was signed. But it was understandable that I didn’t play. How old was I at the time, 21, 22? And Greg Sutton, he’s a great keeper. Sutts was Canada’s number one at the time. He had played in a lot of high-intensity games for Canada and for the Montreal Impact.”

But Chencinski hopes that he could play at BMO Field again — or any other Canadian stadium, for that matter. He would love to get the chance to play for the national side.

“I haven’t got a call but my agent has been in contact with (national coach) Stephen Hart. I would love to get a call into the national team. I was born in Israel, but it was Canada that gave me the opportunity. I consider this my country.”

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About Steven Sandor

I'm currently the colour commentator for FC Edmonton broadcasts on Sportsnet, NASL.com and TEAM 1260. I've covered the Toronto FC beat for four years, worked for the Edmonton Aviators of the USL for a season, covered the Edmonton Drillers of the NPSL and started covering Canadian World Cup qualifiers in 1996. I've covered the CONCACAF Champions League and the U-20 World Cup. I'm passionate about soccer in North America.