TFC signs defender Eckersley
Richard Eckersley says it's nice to feel wanted.
The steady defender made his move to Toronto FC permanent Thursday, signing a deal with the club after spending last season on loan from English side Burnley FC.
"[Contract talks] have been ongoing for a couple of months and it's good to just get it out of the way and concentrate on football and concentrate on the rest of the season," Eckersley said at Toronto FC's media day Wednesday.
The 22-year-old joined TFC last April and saw action in 23 matches, including 22 starts. Like many players arriving from Europe, he came to Major League Soccer not knowing what to expect.
"I knew a little bit about the MLS from watching games and teams coming over in pre-season but I didn't realize actually how good the standard was and that actually swayed my decision," Eckersley said. "People don't realize how good the standard is in the MLS and it's improving all the time year by year so I'm looking forward to the challenge."
A fan favourite who often wears his emotions on his sleeve, Eckersley made it clear at the end of last season he wanted to stay in North America after a fallout with management at Burnley.
"Burnley's in the past. It was a very frustrating time for me. I've got no time for them to be honest and they've got no time for me," he said. "It's good to be somewhere and be appreciated and give everything for the team and get the opportunity to play."
The native of Salford, England, began his youth career at Manchester United and made two appearances with the senior team. He was also part of Manchester United's League Cup-winning side against Tottenham in March 2009.
Eckersley signed a four-year contract with Burnley in July 2009 and went on separate loan deals to Plymouth Argyle, Bradford City and Bury before coming to Canada.
"Signing Richard was a very high off-season priority, our team has worked tirelessly to ensure he would be returning," Toronto FC head coach Aron Winter said in a statement. "This signing represents another successful step in our off-season progress as a club. Richard is an important player for our club."
Toronto FC's defence has been a constant problem area for a club that finished 16th out of 18 teams last season with a 6-13-15 record and has failed to make the MLS playoffs in each of its five years of existence.
But Eckersley was one of the bright spots in 2011 and sees better days ahead for a side that allowed a league-worst 59 goals last season.
"Defending is important with the back four and the back five but I think the whole team needs to help defend and help keep the goals out as well," he said. "We've got strength in depth now so people that do come in, we're gonna help them jell and bond with the team and hopefully we can hit the ground running."
Eckersley's Toronto FC teammates were happy to hear would be with them long term.
"[Eckersley] was a huge player for us, especially in the back, and it's something that we've been struggling with over the years, to find a key right back," midfielder Julian De Guzman said. "It's good to have him back and I'm sure he's happy so it's definitely something to look forward to in our defence.
"We know what to expect from Eckersley and I'm sure he has a lot more to give."
Midfielder Terry Dunfield said he knew Eckersley's first choice was to remain with Toronto FC. The pair had their end-of-season interviews together and it was clear the Englishman wanted to stay.
"I'm happy for him that the move was able to take place. More importantly as a teammate and a fellow player, he's got loads of great attributes he brings," Dunfield said. "If he can improve on last season he's going to be one of the best right backs in the league."
Eckersley said the main reason for wanting to come back is his belief that Winter and his staff are building something special.
"It's about where the team is going to be going in hopefully the next few years," Eckersley said. "Who wouldn't want to be a part of that?"