Taking stock of disappointing Toronto FC
Torsten Frings's potential return from surgery, coach Mariner's role among questions for 2013
Seven managers. Six losing seasons. And just five wins in 2012.
How to fix Toronto FC? A look at the good and bad of Major League Soccer's worst team.
Stefan Frei has been working like a man possessed to rehab his ankle and leg after a freak training ground injury in late March. The MLS season had yet to start and Frei had played just one game, the opening leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final against Los Angeles. Frei is seen as one of the leaders of the club, a player with an intense work ethic and desire to win.
Milos Kocic was given the goalkeeping keys in 2012 and, for a while, was the voice of the club. But working behind a makeshift defence eventually took a toll on a player who wears his heart on his sleeve. The arrival of triplets late in the season complicated matters for Kocic, who probably won't be back unless he accepts another modest contract (he made just $44,100 US this year) as backup. Freddy Hall could remain at No. 2, although the Bermudian has yet to impress.
The signing of Darren O'Dea in early August was a positive although the Irish international has yet to win in the league with TFC. A vocal leader, he served as captain in the absence of designated player Torsten Frings. O'Dea helped stabilize a back four that was so wonky prior to his arrival that Frings, when healthy, was at times forced to drop back from midfield. TFC will look for another quality centre back so it can return Richard Eckersley to his preferred fullback. Eckersley was one of the team's few bright spots despite playing out of position against bigger men. The Brit's speed served him well and the red-headed Energizer Bunny was one of the few TFC players whose irritation at what had just happened on the field was plain to see after the final loss in Columbus.
Eckersley brings fire and commitment. One caveat: O'Dea ($436,250) and Eckersley ($390,000) come at a cost. At fullback, 21-year-old Ashtone Morgan continues to impress. He can motor up the left flank and whip in an accurate cross, but needs to work on his defending. Jeremy Hall got little help at right fullback and it showed at times. Logan Emory had his ups and downs but always answered the call. At 19, Doneil Henry has a bright future. Ty Harden (injured for much of the season), Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams (both of whom returned from knee injuries) are probably moving on.
A black hole in many ways, especially without Frings pulling the strings. The 35-year-old German is no greyhound on the pitch but still has great vision and smarts. He's also a model pro. But can he return from hip surgery? In his absence, Terry Dunfield stepped up to provide graft. The team named the combative Canadian the team MVP which speaks volumes both about Dunfield's efforts and the quality of those around him. There wasn't much else to point to in the TFC midfield.
Joao Plata was shipped to Ecuador in a messy loan deal and the club missed his — albeit one-trick pony — attacking runs. Bermudian winger Reggie Lambe was up and down but, as a find of manager Paul Mariner, could be back. Eric Avila seemed to lose the confidence of the coach as the season wore on. Playing out of position, Aaron Maund improved as a holding midfielder. Matt Stinson gets an incomplete rating due to injuries.
A black hole in the absence of designated player Danny Koevermans, who started slowly before finding a rich vein of form that was cruelly ended by a knee injury. The big Dutchman — he of the infamous quote "We're setting a record for the worst team in the world, man, and it's painful. What can I say more? It's just the worst ever"— is a predator in front of goal when he is switched on. And when he feels like talking, he's a blast to listen to. Despite a sluggish start, he had nine goals in 16 games before ripping up his knee.
Koevermans, 33, faces a long road back and will likely miss part of next season. But he is committed to returning and rediscovering his form. His delayed return may open the door for DP Eric Hassli to stay. The burly Frenchman had a hit-and-miss stint — see injuries, fatherhood — with Toronto since coming over in a July trade, had a $790,000 salary in 2012 and one wonders whether he and Koevermans could play together given their styles. Mariner likes him though and doesn't have many options in Koevermans's absence.
Ryan Johnson was an ironman during the season but is not a poacher and the constant losing seemed to take its toll. Johnson wasn't speaking to the media by the final days and may be headed elsewhere. Rookie Luis Silva showed flashes of his skills and there is clearly more to come, although he disappeared at times in games. Andrew Wiedeman did not get much of a chance to impress but is young and hinted at a nose for goal. He may get a second chance with the Reds if the money works. Quincy Amarikwa was willing and cheap.
Mariner steadied the ship when he took over in June from Aron Winter but was unable to stem the lengthy late-season slide. The former England international had to dumb down his approach to the game to deal with the watered-down roster he was left with. It wasn't pretty, as he acknowledged. Mariner brings class and enthusiasm, as well as MLS knowledge and a vast soccer background, to the table. He has a year remaining on his previous contract as director of player development and wants to return as coach.
TFC seems to like him but his role may depend if the club bows to public pressure and brings in someone above him to supervise the club's overhaul. Given the franchise's woeful history, it's unlikely Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment will stand pat in the front office and any newcomer may have his own coach in mind. In a perfect world, Mariner deserves the chance to start a TFC season from scratch and build his own roster.