Confusion reigning in TFC's defence. Hopefully a thing of the past. - Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE
With the additions of Danny Califf and Gale Agbossoumonde, is TFC finally sorted in defence and ready to start looking at other parts of the squad?
The idea, then, is that Toronto FC has solidified every position in the backline. The starting line-up should read Eckersley-Califf-O'Dea-Morgan for many games, with Jeremy Hall, Doneil Henry, Gale Agbossoumonde, and Logan Emory playing as backups. Never before has the club employed a more clear-cut defensive rotation. With every player fitting the mould of their position, Toronto FC has certainly taken the right steps in their rebuild.
The centrepiece of Toronto's offseason signings so far was the arrival of Danny Califf, picked up by the Reds during the Re-Entry Draft's second round, first overall. Califf has played in Major League Soccer for the better part of the last three years. His arrival in MLS coincided with expansion in Philadelphia with the Union, and he was the clubs' first captain. The immediate impression he left on the league in his first handful of games with the Union was of a player not afraid to pick up a yellow or a red card, a brash tackler, an enforcer-type who relied as much on his football feet as he did his burly upper body. He is a right-footed centre back and as such, he predominantly plays on the right hand side of the centre back pairing. He is an expected starter and together with the left footed Darren O'Dea provides Toronto FC with a complimentary pairing in the middle of defence.
Speaking of O'Dea, the Irishman has had plenty of games to show off what he is capable of, and the general consensus nowadays is that O'Dea is one of the clear choices for a starting spot, in his left centre back position. He worked well to a degree with Richard Eckersley playing alongside him, but this was a temporary measure and Eckersley is expected to resume playing in the right back spot, a move that means Califf's arrival will improve the team in two positions.
Eckersley's greatest strength comes in his ability to command the right flank and provide an offensive push into the oppositions end. This overlapping fullback is a strong crosser and with two big guys up top in Danny Koevermans and Eric Hassli to aim for, the return of this contribution will be greatly appreciated. However, Eckersley is also a very competent defensive asset and that should not be ignored - exposing Toronto's right flank was a big problem in the second half of the 2012 season. This should no longer be the case.
Finally, to round off the starting line-up is left fullback Ashtone Morgan, though little needs to be said of the young Canadian international. Morgan is a hero in his own right to the city of Toronto and its footballing fans - he's the academy kid that made it into the starting XI, a strong left back who performs consistently for club and, soon, for country. Morgan's one limitation is in his defensive prowess but with experienced veterans helping him develop, Morgan is well on his way to becoming a league-leading left back.
Should this foursome stay healthy through the majority of the season, Toronto FC might finally have the stable, reliable defence that has so rarely been seen in TFC red. More good news is that even if last seasons' injury-bug strikes again, Toronto FC does have some options to choose from:
Doneil Henry is the most likely to earn playing time this season - the young Canadian made 18 appearances last year switching from his usual centre back position to right back for some of those, and his play, though still raw in certain aspects, was certainly promising. With Canada's U20 player of the year award now under his belt, 2013 may just be the breakout year for Doneil Henry.
He is a strong player in that he is versatile. We saw Doneil Henry play some impressive football as a centre back, and also did an ok job in the unfamiliar full back position. Henry needs time and experience to grow into a mature defender and that is something he may just find this season.
As for Jeremy Hall, his contributions to the team will be more across-the-park than anything else; Hall was used last season as a starting right back when Eckersley was moved to the middle, but he was also played as a midfielder at times, also as a left back, and a late-game substitute more than once. Hall is the kind of player every team in MLS needs, and if at a cheaper price than last season, he is more than welcome by the Toronto faithful.
Logan Emory's return to the roster comes after a season of meh, really. He wasn't the superstar stud defender that no one expected him to be, but at the same time, he wasn't disastrous like Nick Garcia. He is a cheap, serviceable defender who can play at left back and in the middle, which is nice to have.
Finally, newcomer Gale Agbossoumonde (whose name I have on permanent standby for copying and pasting into articles) joins the fray at Toronto FC. Not much is known about the Togolese-American but what is certain is that Toronto FC have picked up a player that they are, at least, somewhat familiar with - Agbossoumonde and TFC Academy head coach Thomas Rongen have an established relationship due to Rongen's time with the U20 program of the United States.
What we can expect from Agbossoumonde is a player who is looking for some consistency. He has found playing time hard to come by as of late and by signing on with MLS, Toronto FC have been handed a player of SuperDraft quality, and risk, on a silver platter.
This is where Toronto FC must be smart. Agbossoumonde would be the kind of player teams would look at in the MLS SuperDraft. Toronto FC hold picks one and three, and if they have been gifted a SuperDraft quality player, what they do with these two selections is crucial to the development of the squad.
Toronto FC has only two possible starters in the centre of midfield: Torsten Frings and Terry Dunfield, the former an aged, injury-prone player whom relying heavily on will stunt the team, and latter a hard working Toronto-type who has little skill but tons of heart.
With the defensive end sorted, for the most part, drafting another defender would be overkill, a case of having too many players and not playing them all. Already, Doneil Henry's development has been hindered due to the abundance of defenders in last years' roster, and though the likes of Dicoy Williams or Miguel Aceval were not considered starters, Doneil Henry needs to find regular playing time in order to become what Ashtone Morgan is - Morgan is lucky to find himself in a lightly-contested leftback slot while Henry is battling it out with competition like Califf and O'Dea now.
Adding another centre back like Andrew Farrell or Walker Zimmerman would simply add another player to the mix that just won't get playing time. It's not really fair to take these players, when Toronto FC has such a gaping hole in central midfield. What Toronto FC needs to do is pick up another left back to challenge Ashtone Morgan, but not through the draft. With the eight defenders on the roster, plus a left back, Toronto FC fulfills the squad archetype of nine defenders per 25-man roster.
The rest of their resources (scarce as they may be) must go towards finding a minimum of six midfielders - three wingers, three central midfielders - to compliment Reggie Lambe and Terry Dunfield, and give Matt Stinson new teachers in training and practices. The severe lack of midfield options cannot be ignored. It is why drafting another defender would be counterproductive to Toronto FC's squad development.
Trading those two picks for four midfielders would be Toronto FC's smartest move, in my opinion - get a pair of wide midfielders and a pair of central midfielders of MLS quality and get working on supplementing them with a creative, attacking midfield a la Guillermo Barros Schelotto/Dwayne De Rosario.
The defence (finally!) looks complete. Now, Toronto FC must focus their attention elsewhere, and, most importantly, the footballing gods must be kind to the club's backline in terms of injuries.
Worst-case scenario? Eckersley or Morgan picks up an injury, leaving the club without a suitable fullback replacement. It's the first time that Toronto FC can honestly say that a short-term injury at centerback will not cripple the squad.
We can all, at least, be thankful for that.