John Molinaro broke the news on Monday evening that Toronto FC have released Dan Gargan. This is presumably to create a little bit of cap space and another roster spot for a new signing to come soon. Hopefully that will be very big news coming soon, and really, without being mean, at the very least it won't be too hard for it to be an improvement. But that's for another time, for now this is going to be a serious and unsarcastic appreciation of Dan Gargan.
Last season, he became a bit of a cult hero, a solid hard working player who maybe never was the most talented but never let the team down, had a genuinely engaging personality and seemed to actually care, and people really embraced all that. He was perfect for Preki's more defensive system, able to do a good basic job in multiple positions, and among a more defence oriented team, his mistakes were rarely disastrous. He seemed to know his limitations and didn't try to do too much, he was a tough, physical defender, and was always ready to concede a smart foul and take a yellow card when he knew a winger had got by him and into a dangerous position. His long throws were also a dangerous if overused weapon, and there was that exuberant shirts off celebration after he scored his one and only goal for TFC. His interviews and other media appearances were usually intelligent and/or entertaining. People loved him, within Preki's style of play he fit really well with the team.
He became TFC's version of Darcy Tucker, or Jerome Williams, and in a way that's what went wrong. MLSE did what they always do with that type of blue collar player, promote the hell out of him, give him a bit too much money, and make him into a far more important figure than he really should be.
In the off season, he got a new contract, bumped up to $70,000, which within the MLS salary cap is too much for a versatile but limited depth player, which is what he was, and all he should have been asked to be. The warning signs came at the end of last year, after Preki was fired and Nick Dasovic introduced a less defensively focussed formation. Gargan was one of quite a few previously solid looking defenders who suddenly looked shaky, and with fewer teammates to help out, he was often exposed as not quite good enough.
As this season started, I was happy to have him on the squad, but thought that if he was a regular in the starting line up, that would be a sad indictment of the squad that had been built. That was the case a lot more than I would have liked as injuries depleted the back 4 and led him to make plenty of appearances at both full back positions. He had a rough few games at the start of the season, as Aron Winter's new formation and tactics demanded more from the defenders defensively, and perhaps more fatally for Gargan, also involving the defence more in passing the ball and keeping possesion. Public opinion seemed to sway against him, with people now focussing more on his faults, but really, all the good parts of his game that made him popular the year before were still there, the hard work, the versatility, the ability to do the simple things with basic competence. As long as he wasn't asked to do too much and when given good defensive support from the rest of the team, he once again became a reliable player. There was a stretch of games where Gargan was played at Left Back, and when the midfield three had switched to the point back formation where both he and the team looked much better, if he wasn't really deserving of the amount of praise he got last season he certainly played better this year than a lot of people gave him credit for.
All in all, In the right situation, for the right team and at the right price, he could be a very solid bench player, providing good competent if unspectacular coverage of multiple positions, the sort of player needed to affordably fill out an MLS squad under the salary cap. As so many other players have discovered though, Toronto FC is for whatever reason usually far from the right team for them to thrive. Plenty of other players have left TFC and ended up in much better positions, 2011 MLS All star Nick Labrocca being just the latest example. I genuinely hope that Dan Gargan can be another one, and that he can continue his career elsewhere. Thanks for everything Dan, and good luck.