Toronto FC Top 31 Countdown: Number 13 - Eric Avila

He said he's going to slap me! After he said I was like a son to him! - Tom Szczerbowski

A creative attacking midfielder who started the season so brightly, ended the year exiled to the bench like a child being sent to his room. Did he play that badly or was Paul Mariner teaching him a lesson? At number 13 it's Eric Avila.

Average Ranking: 13.27
Highest Ranking: 7
Lowest Ranking: 18

Kristin: 11 One of the lost boys - don't think he's been given a fair shake. While not outstanding he did win player of the week honours early in the season and the team often looked better when he was on the pitch.

The curious case of Eric Avila. Avila came to the team last season in the trade that saw Maicon Santos go to Dallas. He quickly became a mainstay in the starting XI, showing all sorts of flair, ball control, passing ability - everything you want in an attacking midfielder. So how did it go so wrong in 2012? What transpired to keep Avila sitting forlornly on the bench for much of the last third of the season?

The year started well for Avi; here's a shot of simpler times back in Florida:

Ah memories...

Avila started the season well - even though he had to miss the CCL matches as he was cup-tied to Dallas - he started or was subbed into most of the games in the first weeks of April. He really started to pick up speed towards the end of the April with two very strong performances; first showing all sorts of creativity in the Chicago game (just missing out on a goal with a shot that careened off the post and out of play) on the 21st and then culminating in a fantastic game in the 3-2 loss to RSL on the 28th. That game featured his Goal of The Week nominated strike (at around the 30 second mark) and served to showcase his ability to control the ball and utilize space. Hey, an attacking midfielder with creativity and a little speed? Surely he will only continue to play more and be an integral part of the midfield, right?

Well, yes and no. Going into May he would play in most games for varying lengths, but then was injured in the Reds Voyageur Cup winning match against the Whitecaps here at BMO on the 16th. When the international break and all the drama it contained was over he again would put in a couple of strong performances - continuing to highlight his ability to move the ball and pass to the attackers up top - but then his star started to wane - for inexplicable reasons if you're a fan and you know, watching the games. By the end of July it was clear that he was going to be firmly planted on the bench (in some sort of bizarre form of torture) when instead of being brought on when the Reds were only down 1-0 to Houston, Mariner brought on two defensive players and they subsequently lost that game 2-0.

So what was happening? Why, when the team was starving for creativity in the midfield, when they couldn't move the ball out of the middle if they had a map to the opposition goal were Aaron Maund, Quincy Amarikwa and Andrew Wiedeman playing in favour of Avila? Rumblings behind the scenes of lacklustre performances in practice and a poor attitude were offered up as the explanation for the lack of minutes. Even though he would play in 24 games and start 16 he only clocked 1366 minutes; less than double his playing time in 2011 even though he only played 9 games (starting in 8) that season. Less than double - quite the change.

I got the official answer to this dilemma at the last TFC Town Hall on Wednesday night. A fan asked Mariner why he'd basically wasted the control and creativity of Avila last season and this was the reply:

"You're a fan right?" "Yeah, huge." "Are you watching the same games as me?.....Look at the program and look at how many games he started back to back, that's point number one.....as a professional footballer when you're on the field that's where you're judged. Not in the bar, not in the restaurant, not in the training facility, but it'son the field, that's where you're judged right? When Thomas and I are training the teams, it's what you do during the week that determines whether you play....you don't reward people for shoddy work. If you get rewarded for shoddy work in your workplace then it must be a pretty shitty place to work...the simple fact of the matter is this; I've know Eric Avila since he was a freshman at UC SB, I know his coaches, I know everything we've done for him. He's like a son to me, but sometimes a son needs a little bit of a reminder, a little bit of a slap in that sense of the word. We had discussions at the reserve game in New England....I took him on a walk behind the goal and I said Eric, what's happened to you? And if you want my honest opinion? I think the town got to him...I think the city got to him. I could be way off the mark but that's my opinion."

Mariner then goes on to acknowledge that Eric possesses all the attributes that the questioner mentioned - creative, great on the ball, ability to go by people in the box etc. but that he's inconsistent and that four very good games and one fantastic game don't make an all-star. If you're not consistent you're out of the league. Says "I love Eric, I really, really love him but some of the things I didn't think were very good from him." And that was that. When pressed if Avi had a place next season Mariner said "I think we're picking his option up...but ask Earl". Earl's response (as mentioned in my Town Hall roundup) was that he is out of contract and that they're having conversations and will determine what happens in the next couple of weeks. Hardly reassuring from Mr. Cochrane on Avi's fate.

From salsa dancing leader of the hipster crew on the team at the beginning of the season, to exile at the end of the bench being given a metaphorical "slap" by his coach, so ends the season - and likely his time in Toronto - of unlucky number 13.

Duncan: 18 I remember seeing Avila at 2011's 90th minute party (he was one of the 3, along with Iro and Dunfield, who stayed behind after to keep drinking with fans, at the time I thought' good for him', in retrospect, maybe not) and being stunned at how thin he was. Apparently over the off season he got even thinner, with vague talk of illness, and so his season never really got going. He was cup tied so couldn't play in the CCL games, and was in and out of the lineup for league games, without really impressing. He was moved to left wing instead of Joao Plata for the game in Salt Lake, and had a fantastic game, winning a penalty, and scoring a lovely goal in what remains and is likely to forever remain his finest game as a Red.

After Mariner came along, he actually got a decent run of games at first, playing in 8 of those first 10 games where things looked good. After that though, he was more often than not on the bench, and very rarely used, all very confusing given how poor and uncreative the team in general looked. I can't imagine he'll be back next year, and just to drive the message home, he was subbed off with minutes remaining in the last game of the season against Columbus. 'Like a son, that needed a slap' will be his TFC epitath.

Dave: 10 When Avila actually got a good run of games he was able to impress and was a solid midfielder. The problem for him this year was that he rarely got a consistent run of games as he seemed to find himself out of favour with both managers. He still has some room to improve his game if he really does want to be a consistent starter but for now he remains a solid option.

Michael: 10 Selected far to infrequently for my liking

John: 13 Actually has some potential; too bad he's rotting on the bench.

The Ghost Of TFC Future: A skilled attacker on a team short on skilled attackers. Like Silva, tends to drift in and out of games, to the point where you start to wonder if you'd missed him being subbed-out. My suspicion is that Avila was tasked with working an ass groove into the bench so that it would be perfect when Mariner was ready to sit in it. I can't imagine why else he would spend so much time there. Perhaps, unlike Maund, he cautioned Mariner on the "shorts in October" look, earning the manager's undying enmity

The Yorkies: Deserved a better shake from Mariner but was never terribly consistent either way. So long Avi.

Casual Soccer Fan: Given no chance to play.

DichioTFC: Paul Mariner traded underachieving former TFC captain Maicon Santos to FC Dallas in exchange for Eric Avila in late 2011, and it might be fair to say that this is one of Mariner's best trades for TFC. Avila is a smart, talented, quick player who has great vision and reads the game exceedingly well. In light of such a success story for Mariner, it's a wonder why he doesn't play his personal success story more often. As Mariner took over for Winter, Avila soon fell out of favour with the gaffer, losing his place in the lineup as well as minutes. Armen at RNO pointed out on November 1 that if Avila is traded, which he seemingly will be considering Mariner's lack of faith, he will likely do well for any club that is lucky to have him (Sam Cronin of the powerhouse SJ Earthquakes comes to mind). What happened to cause Mariner to lose faith in one of our best young midfielders is anyone's guess, but it will be a damn shame if (when?) Avila is traded. Considering Avila preformed better while playing fewer minutes than the aforementioned players, his top-10 ranking (7)is justified.

Prizby: Avila fell victim to being on Mariner’s unwanted list. He did have one superb performance where he bamboozled Real Salt Lake in April. Other than that, he showed spurts of talent, but he never got a fair shake at the stick.

Sir Alphonso Applegate: Avila was criminally under-used by Mariner. Even though he drifts in and out of games, he has a high level of technique which we were missing at times.

JC_Plante: Should've gotten more playing time.

Panos Kelamis: Banished to the bench after 'The Shake-Up' Avila never did anything on the bench to warrant his selection

Number 12: Julian de Guzman

Number 14: Doneil Henry

Full Top 31 Countdown

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