The final week of the Toronto FC Top 40 countdown continues, and today we finally get out first goalie. From starting the season as the undoubted backup, he's now legitimately in the debate for TFC's best goalie. At number 6, it's Milos Kocic.
Average Ranking: 6.773
Highest ranking: 4
Lowest ranking: 12
Duncan: 10. After TFC traded away Jon Conway for a superdraft pick that turned into Joao Plata, Milos Kocic was now TFC's backup to Stefan Frei. In 2010 he'd played in the CSL, and made a couple of appearances with the first team, including coming on as a sub after Conway's legendary sending off against Columbus. That unfortunately meant he was in net for Will Hesmer's preposterous injury time equaliser. Without too much evidence to go on, fans were more or less comfortable with him being the back up to Frei, but if you'd suggested at the start of the season that we'd end the season with a massively important game, both goalies would be fit, and it'd be Kocic that got the start, no-one would have believed you.
That is of course what happened and by the end of the season, fans were not only happy enough with Kocic to suggest that Frei should be used as trade bait to improve the team elsewhere, there were serious discussions as to whether Frei was even the better keeper of the two. Just how did we get there?
It didn't start well for Milos. After sitting on the bench and watching Frei play every minute of the season, he was given the start in the CCL qualifier against Real Esteli. They were a poor team and he didn't have much to do, until late in the game there was another routine play to complete, having to smother a ball to kill off an Esteli attack. Instead he somehow managed to roll over the ball, and presented them with an open net and a valuable away goal. There was enough time left for the crowd to give him an ironic cheer next time he completed a routine play before the whistle blew and he tried to quietly slink off down the tunnel. In a genuinely touching moment, Stefan Frei didn't let Kocic leave quietly, he intercepted him, put his arm round him and gave him a bit of a pep talk before turning him round and bringing him back out to the Southeast corner to applaud the fans.
He got an instant shot at redemption as Aron Winter made his CCL selection policy known and put him out there for the return leg next week. This time he got the job done, though he didn't really have many saves to make he looked very good when coming for crosses, looking more decisive and confident that Frei had done all season.
His next big test arrived shortly as a Frei injury meant he finally got into a league game against Real Salt Lake. He had the honour of being the 37th player used in 2011, thus breaking the all time MLS record and he once again did very well, keeping a clean sheet, and making a very important last minute save that ended up in the running for MLS save of the season, and earning a big on pitch bearhug from goalie coach Mike Toshack at the end of the game.
From there, he played all the remaining CCL games, and most of the MLS games as well as Frei picked up another injury, and he really did very well. The stats tell how well he did, he only lost one of the 8 league games he appeared in, and both his save percentage and goals against were significantly better than Frei's. In the CCL of course, despite a rough game in Mexico, he did what he needed to do and especially in the away game against Tauro and the home game against Pumas played a big part in TFC getting the results they needed to earn the quarter final spot.
It obviously wasn't just about Kocic, the team as a whole was much better after all the July signings, and there was a renewed focus on defence with Torsten Frings being moved back into a sweeper role. That had a big effect on the goals against obviously as he got a lot more protection that Frei ever did. There also may have been a subconscious extra effort from the rest of the team when in front of Kocic, as if knowing they no longer had Frei back there to bail them out.
You can't discount the effect Kocic had though, as the goalie is obviously an important part of a more organised defence. If the defenders know with certainty that the goalie will come out for any cross in a certain area, and have confidence in his ability to claim it, that will positively effect the way they play. It's a chicken and egg thing, is an organised defence making the goalie look good, or or a good goalie making the defence look more organised.
Whatever the reason, though I think most people would still say Frei is the better goalie, TFC were undoubtedly a better team in front of Kocic this year. Kocic proved he can be a starter at this level, whether he or Frei gets to play that role for TFC in 2012 will be one of the more interesting subplots in this off season. That it's even up for debate is a sign of how good of an end to the season Kocic had.
Dave: 5. Took advantage of playing in CCL games and the injury to Frei to be able to get an unexpected amount of playing time. He also managed to make the most of it and have a far better season than Frei statistically. Seeing as the CCL is the team's biggest success this season a large part of that has to be credited to Kocic who back stopped the team in every single game in that competition. Kocic proved this season that he has what it takes to start for this club and will continue to push for his share of the minutes going forward.
Keaton: 4. Milos is the best back up in MLS. To think he was playing in the CSL last year. He's improved massively since arriving, and I could see either Milos or Frei getting traded this off season. Because this guy is clearly a starter in MLS now.
Blindfolded Tank Driver: Kocic stepped up large and put pressure on the only position that should have been secure. Two keepers of quality is an excellent problem.
Ignirtoq: TFC has been blessed with keepers ranging from good to great. Even in the one season where we had 6, they were all good for their roles. We've been priveleged to see Sutton move on for Frei to come up. Frei is very good, but Kocic has looked outstanding (aside from the CCL howler against Tauro). He's a different animal next to Frei, but I'm more confident in Kocic.
Devon Taylor: In what was a suprise to me, Kocic performed superbly when called upon for CCL, and to replace Frei when injured. It looks like we have two #1 keepers. A problem for them as they fight for playing time, but great for the team.
Canadian Texan: Big when we needed him most
James: Saw him dominate the CSL last season, flub in CCL was troublesome, but collected himself to impress come the end. Number One of the Future.
Michelle: CCL…need I say more? I think he will be great for us in goal if/when Stefan is gone.
Kristin: Could be the starting keeper on a number of teams. Solid back-up - great down the stretch.
Alex: Stepped up well with the injury and played himself into the #1 spot.