How bad was the injury bug's bite for TFC?

Bob Levey - Getty Images

TFC have certainly suffered from injuries this year, but just how much has that affected things under Paul Mariner?

On Monday, I published an opinion piece on the need to make yet another coaching change in the quest for long term stability.

In that piece, I provided the reasons to keep Mariner and Cochrane but in the end came to the conclusion that neither has a history of turning a team around and in chasing short term success could set this franchise back.

In my editorial, I referenced that TFC has had some injuries, which most likely have contributed to their record under Mariner, just as they did under Winter. I received a few comments from those supportive of Mariner who felt that I was down playing the injury bug. One comment in particular referenced something that I recalled having read over the weekend. It appeared to be an alarming stat about the extent of TFC's injuries. It was a nugget offered from the man himself, Paul Mariner.

"If you want to be hypercritical then be hypercritical," Mariner said of TFC's winless stretch of 10 MLS contests. "We've probably got about 70% of our salary cap on the treatment table, which is never a good thing."

To this reader, I would offer that I agree with Paul. Having 70% of your salary cap on the treatment table is never a good thing. It's also not an accurate thing either.

  • Toronto FC is without its 3 Designated Players. Fact.
  • Toronto FC traded one of its healthy Designated Players. Fact.
  • After the Mellberg deal was nixed by the league, Mariner picked up another Designated Player who was injured at the time of the deal. Fact.
  • Designated Players, though carrying a big salary, only count a maximum of $335k against the cap. Fact.

With me so far? Good. Then it is a simple next step to see that Mariner's numbers don't add up, using the guaranteed compensation numbers found here, which are what count against the cap.

Player

Cap Hit

Frings

$335,000

Koevermans

$335,000

Hassli

$335,000

Frei

$175,000

Harden

$98,667

Stinson

$44,000

Total Cap Hit

$1,322,667

Salary Cap

$2,810,000

% of Allowable Salary Cap on Treatment Table

47.07%

No matter where you learned Math, you really can't round up to 70% from 47.07%. Considering that Harden and Stinson haven't factored into roster decisions, that number is more like 42%.

Paul, while a good percentage of your salaries may be on the treatment table, it appears that much less of your allowable cap space is. If there are cap hits tied up in some guaranteed contracts that you "released" this summer, then that reflects on your management of the salary cap and how you tied your own hands at bringing in depth. Managing the cap is a key component of managing in this league.

Let's also set aside the notion that without these players, Mariner's Reds are much worse. While I do believe that the injured players were factors for both Mariner and Winter, it is surprising what little difference they have made to the big picture under Mariner.

For example, if you review the statistics under Mariner for games in which 2 or more of the DPs were missing, you'll see the following:

Overall

Mariner

Mariner
With DP

Mariner
Without DP

Goals Per Game

1.3

1.4

1.1

Goals Against

1.7

1.6

1.9

Shots For

11.7

12.3

10.6

Shots Against

15.0

14.0

16.9

Fouls Conceded

12.8

12.9

12.6

Yellow Card

1.7

1.7

1.6

Duels Won %

48.9%

49.3%

48.1%

Total Pass

291.4

282.9

307.1

Passing Accuracy %

69.5%

68.4%

71.4%

Possession

40.5%

40.3%

40.8%

Opposition Duels Won %

50.3%

49.9%

51.0%

Opposition Total Pass

440.9

430.9

459.3

Opposition Passing Accuracy %

79.9%

78.7%

82.1%

Opposition Possession

59.5%

59.7%

59.2%

Points Per Game

0.95

1.1

0.7

You have to be careful about extrapolating from small sample sizes but these numbers are the only objective data we have. Here is where the injuries have hurt Mariner's team.

When the DPs are hurt, goals per game is down by .3. That's not a lot but averaged out over a 34 game season it rounds out to about 10 goals. Danny Koevermans, get well soon. Same with goals against, which is up by a similar margin. Pretty big difference.

However, would it have impacted points? Sure. The team with at least 2 healthy DPs averages 1.1 points per game. The team without averages 0.7. Over a 34 game schedule, the healthy team finishes with 37 points. The unhealthy team with 24. While that might make it interesting in the Western Conference as Vancouver sits on 39 points in the final playoff spot with 3 games left to play, it would be irrelevant in the East where 50 points (minimum) will be the cost of entry into the post season. Overall, it would likely be a 14th place finish... out of 19 teams.

Why doesn't it make that ultimate difference? Because the team, with or without DPs, still gets outshot. The team still holds the ball about 18 minutes less per game than its opponents. In fact, in some categories like passing accuracy and possession, the team actually showed a slight improvement without the big name players. To suggest a marked drop off in performance due to injuries appears to be a disingenuous argument.

I'm not saying that there aren't validities to the argument as I myself have argued in favour of what I call the Koevermans-Frings Importance Theory (both players masked the shortcomings of the team). But this team has miles to go beyond just getting successful healing from the treatment table.

The real issue isn't injuries. The real issue is that beyond the big names, there is little depth. That is a function of scouting, player acquisition and development. More precisely, the inability to excel at any of those. Fortunately, that is something Mariner was supposedly hired for so we can at least expect some improvement in those areas going forward... right?

The injury situation is both self imposed and overstated. Factor? Sure. Important enough that a simple return to health of their DPs could propel them to the playoffs in 2013 in and of itself?

At the risk of being called hypercritical, I'd say ney-ney.

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