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Thursday, November 1, 2012

A magnificent seven?

Eckersley, Koevermans, Frings, O'Dea, Hassli, Morgan and Frei (L-R)

Amongst all of the clichés, bluster and grandstanding of Tuesday's TFC post-season presser was a moment of quiet clarity. In the midst of proclaiming that the future was bright and that he was "very good at what he does", Paul Mariner was asked by a local reporter how many "bona fide MLS starters" were currently on the club. The room fell silent as Mariner sat rigid in thought - so much so that those watching online thought the stream had frozen. Then the gruff reply was croaked out... "seven".
More than any of the other answers given that day, "seven" seemed to be the one that was the bluntest and also closest to the truth. But how close? We don't dismiss that Paul Mariner truly feels that he currently has seven MLS starters of varying skill levels but come Spring 2013 (barring off-season deals) - who exactly would those seven be? We look at ten current Reds who may be part of Mariner's "Sort of Magnificent Seven" and whether we feel they really are worthy 2013 starters.
The club's MVP is no doubt a fan favourite but are his workman's accolades worthy of garnering a starter's spot? No one could dislike Dunfield and his work ethic and heart are admirable but he is simply one in a long line of Toronto-based athletes who rise above the gooey middle. Like Wendel Clark, Jerome "Junk Yard Dog" Williams and Ernie Whitt before him - he is the blue-collar guy to hail while other cities are busy celebrating skill players.
MLS STARTER? No. A good bench player and locker room leader.
Yes he is still rough around the edges. No he will never be a polished Premier League level defender. However, when he plays in his position (and isn't forced into the centreback role) he can be a very effective MLS wingback. Far more suitable to bombing the ball down the flanks rather than being responsible as a stopper, the main critique against Ecks seems to be how much he earns. That is not his shortcoming but those who signed him.
MLS STARTER? Yes. But... in his position and not at CB.
If back at 100% health, which all indications seem to point to, "The Goalblerone" will be first name on the team sheet. While Milos Kocic performed more than admirably in front of a useless defence after Frei's season-ending injury, there are certain intangibles which give the Swiss stopper an advantage in owning the # 1 spot. It is obvious by all accounts that Paul Mariner concurs.
MLS STARTER? Yes. At his best he owns the spot in Toronto.
Football legends aren't really a dime-a-dozen around BMO Field so for pedigree alone Torsten Frings will be a starter. If. And ifs are the story here. To be clearer - "if" Torsten Frings wants to return to TFC for one last season (despite the assurances given by management); and "if" he is healthy enough to hold down his midfield general's role for a full season. The German's skills and health have declined rapidly since arriving in Toronto and in many circles it would be seen as acceptable if Frings and TFC cut their losses and planned for separate futures.
MLS STARTER? Yes. Mostly based on reputation and star power.
With a first round draft pick gambled away for Hassli's services - a bigger return was no doubt expected. Unfortunately, through a series of injuries and lack of form, the Frenchman never found his stride in Toronto and ends 2012 as a major question mark. With a DP contract ending, questions about the viability of his future with The Reds are abounding. Even when healthy, his goal scoring numbers have been declining but he is still a handful for opposing defenders. What may extend his stay in Toronto however is a seemingly close bond with the manager.
MLS STARTER? Yes. If he can fit under the salary cap.
The knock on Ryan Johnson before he arrived in Toronto and one that has regained momentum while in Red is his lack of consistency. Yes, the Jamaican international is a physical specimen who logs valuable minutes but his output is wavering at times. Capable of explosive movement and a deft touch in front of goal, Johnson has the equal ability to disappear for games at a time. Where Johnson was once an outspoken voice for improvement at TFC, he has recently seemed less than interested. This of course, is understandable in the circumstances.
MLS STARTER? No. Good for some starts and depth but not reliable at his price.
If the post season presser was any indication - all future success is dependent on Danny Koevermans' return to action. This seems like a very dangerous proposition. At 34 years of age and coming off of one of the hardest injuries for a footballer to recover from, Koef is a very large question mark. And no, that wasn't a crack about his weight. The big Dutchman will have to put some serious commitment into his off-season re-hab - and that's just to return to running by spring. By the time he finds his goal scoring form it could be June or July. TFC can't afford to plan a season without a consistent striker for the first two or three months.
MLS STARTER? Yes. TFC will wait on their all-time best striker... but at what cost?
If there is one player on the TFC roster who fans want to see be great more than any other - it is likely Morgan. The local product is a feel-good story on a feel-bad club. A burgeoning Canadian international and a young man with decent football IQ and glimpses of leadership potential who is seemingly a gem. Which makes us wonder - how will TFC screw this up? While still raw at times and not yet in the calibre of the better MLS wingbacks, Morgan needs the playing time of a starter if he isn't to see his development stunted. Some will argue that having Ryan Johnson as a "no" amongst the seven while Morgan is a "yes" is wrong but TFC has few pieces with as much potential as the Academy grad.
MLS STARTER? Yes. Can shine if central duties are filled properly.
Being tossed onto the deck of the Titanic in mid-sinking was never going to allow O'Dea's talents to shine. The Irishman with much English Championship and international experience was asked to anchor a porous backline while having rotating partners week in and week out. There are few defenders anywhere who could have overcome those odds. What O'Dea did manage to show was vocal leadership and experience on that line and could prove to be a good half of a centreback pairing if Mariner and Cochrane can do as promised and deliver another centreback. Again, the knock from some is his wage packet but if he can prove to be 50% of a solid CB duo - savings should be found elsewhere.
MLS STARTER? Yes. At 25, O'Dea could make this position his and be a future full-time club captain.
The rookie seems to have all of the tools necessary to step up into an MLS starter's role... eventually. Should he have been a full-time starter in 2012? Arguably not. On a better club Silva would have been nursed along and allowed to develop into a professional under the tutelage of veterans. In Toronto, he was thrust into the regular starting eleven and expected to lead an attacking midfield which was attacking only in name. After the physical and mental toll of TFC 2012, only time will tell if Silva was helped or hindered by his baptism of fire. Likely a reliable starter soon but would he be asked to play that role anywhere else in MLS today?
MLS STARTER? No. Spot starter and first off the bench yes but if TFC wants to compete, they need someone in the De Rosario or Guevara mold at attacking mid until Silva is fully ready.
So, out of the most likely ten, we have chosen who we think are a likely "Bona Fide 7". There are arguments to be had as there are far more questions than answers in our choices. Let us know who you would choose or even if you think there are more or less "MLS starters" currently available.


  1. Your wrong. Johnson > Hassli and Dunfield > Morgan. No Dunny? Your crazy.
    Frei - Kocic - Frings - Silva - Dunfield - Johnson - Koevermans

    1. Actually, I take that back, because I see Eckersley isn't in your seven. Neither is O'Dea. And two keepers (though to be fair I do actually think Kocic is good enough to start in MLS).

    2. Johnson's had some good moments, especially in the Vs Cup, and he'll run his socks off at times but he also misses too many good chances, makes poor (selfish) decisions, and gets sulky on the pitch when things aren't going right and at the moment doesn't look like he wants to be here. I'd trade him for some more younger depth.

      Dunfield improved quite a bit with his passing since the start of the year. I think of him as a Dax McCarthy type of high energy guy out there. Overly criticized but he's still more of a squad guy, however. Under a 100K is bonus. Besides, way better than guys like the overrated Martin Saric.

      Frings? The big factor in the team's improved form at the end of last year, the big factor in the team's free fall at the start of the regular season. Unfortunately, he fear that if you stick a fork in him, you'll find that he's done. Don't see him as an impact player next year and his DP deal will be just like the de Guzman millstone the club was saddled with for three and a half years.

      Hassli's a China doll: needs to go.

      Morgan has to work on his marking of opponents when they don't have the ball (notably defending set plays but also in open play) to step it up to the next level. His 1 v 1 defending is top notch and his attacking support and crossing are strong. Also, needs to toughen up mentally and physically.

  2. I'm in full agreement with the exception of Hassli. Seemingly injury prone from the outset (hell they signed him while he was injured) and invisible for long stretches during games does not inspire confidence for me. However, a fully fit and engaged Hassli? That I would like to see as a starter. So, a qualified agreement. :-)