Eckersley keen to stay at TFC

Defender Richard Eckersley has been one of the few bright spots for Toronto FC in 2011, but there is one small hitch to the England native being part of the club's long-term plans.

'Toronto has shown all the eagerness to play me,' defender says

In a season littered with on-field disappointments, defender Richard Eckersley has been one of the few bright spots for Toronto FC in 2011.

Eckersley, 22, has won widespread praise from teammates and fans alike with his poised and consistent play at right fullback ever since he joined the Reds in April.

With a lowly 3-11-9 record and sitting in last place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, TFC stands poised to miss the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year. The club has made a series of trades and free-agent signings in the past few weeks, a clear indication that it's already thinking ahead to next season.

With any luck, Eckersley, a native of Manchester, England, should be a part of TFC’s long-term plans, but there is one small hitch — he’s currently on loan at the Canadian outfit from English side Burnley.

The loan agreement runs until January 2012. After that, it’s anybody’s guess as to what will happen. Eckersley might be recalled by Burnley or get loaned out to another team back in England. Or he might stay in Toronto, either on an extension of his loan deal or on a permanent basis.

What’s his preference? The English youngster leaves no doubts that he wants to remain at the MLS club and continue his development under Dutch coach Aron Winter.

"Toronto has shown all the eagerness to play me, and have given me this [opportunity] and allowed me to try to be an influence," Eckersley told ahead of TFC’s Saturday road game against the Portland Timbers.

"I love it here in Toronto. I love everything about it: the club, the staff and the fans. I love playing for Aron because he lets us go and expresses ourselves on the field, which is massively important for a footballer. I enjoy it here."

Played for Man U

A product of Manchester United's youth system, Eckersley made two appearances for the Red Devils in 2009. Before coming to Toronto, he bounced around England's lower divisions, with loan stints at Bradford City, Plymouth Argyle and Bury.

Eckersley said Burnley has not contacted him since coming to Toronto. Nor has he had any formal talks with TFC management about his future after his loan deal expires.

"Nobody has said anything. I think we’re just taking it a game at a time and then seeing where it goes from there. I’ve got over 18 months left on my contract with Burnley. It’s not worked out there, but we’ll see how it goes," he said.

Eckerlsey admitted he was disappointed that Burnley has not kept in touch with him.

"Obviously, it’s out of sight and out of mind. It’s very strange," he said.

Paul Mariner, TFC’s director of player development, coached Eckersley during his stint as manager of Plymouth Argyle. Mariner politely declined to comment on whether the club is actively trying to lock up Eckersley on a full-time basis.

But Mariner was quick to lavish Eckersley with praise for his outstanding play this season.

"Professionalism, pace, great leadership by example on the field of play and a role model for the academy players," Mariner replied when asked what Eckersley has contributed to the team.

For his part, Eckersley believes he has thrived under coach Winter’s tutelage.

"With every player on the team, and this is why he’s so good, he tells everybody to not be afraid to express themselves on the field, even in practice. He also teaches and encourages you at the same time, and that’s why I enjoy playing for him," Eckersley said.