Toronto FC Top 31 Countdown: Number 3 - Richard Eckersley

I`m already down! No need to kick me while I`m there! - Jamie Sabau

After a season of often being played out of position and having the defense change around him almost daily, he may not be the best player on the pitch but can always be counted on to play the full 90. At Number 3 is TFC`s feisty fullback Richard Eckersley.

Average Ranking: 3.76
Highest Ranking: 1
Lowest Ranking: 8

Kristin: 1 My surprise pick for number one, but he was one of the few players I feel actively tried to win each and every game. Obviously passionate and works crazy hard. Is he the best player on the team? No. But I can only imagine what the team would have looked like if the Ginga ninja had played at right back where he belongs.

It`s no secret that I`m a fan of Eckersley - I like the way he throws himself into every game, the fact that when knocked down he jumps back up, rarely staying down to try to get a foul call and well he plays the position that I once played so I admit that I`m biased - but that doesn`t mean that I don`t recognize his shortcomings.

One of the bright spots of TFC`s 2011 campaign, fans clamoured to have him signed permanently away from Burnley and in late January the team announced they had done just that. What fans didn`t know (and couldn`t as details of contracts are rarely released by the team) was the salary that kept him in TFC red. In late May the MLS Players Union released their list of player salaries and more than a few eyebrows were raised at price tag attached to Eckersley. This was what the fans wanted but was he worth the price? That`s the $390,000 question isn`t it? Although it is somewhat unfair to blame a player for what seems to be an outrageous salary; it gets easier when the play on the pitch doesn`t seem to match the dollars in the bank account.

This was not the standout season from Eckersley that many (myself included) expected - but not all of that can be put to the player - forced to play out of position for a large chunk of the season by Paul Mariner, Eckersley`s abilities were not utilized to their fullest. At right back Ecks is one of the better players for TFC - able to use his (not overly considerable) speed to bomb down the right and send crosses in, overlapping with the attacking mids (when we have some) and basically causing havoc. At centre back he is merely adequate, his natural tendencies to move up as well as the occasional (OK, maybe more than occasional) tendency to ball and player watch caused some issues.

Ecks is a no nonsense, leave it all out on the pitch sort of player. He`s one of the few players that you could look at and say yes, he didn`t let up for one minute. And it`s apparent every time he plays. One of my favourite moments (albeit in a losing performance) was the loss against Columbus in March - it was one of the many disheartening losses for TFC as the Reds had outplayed the Crew but a defensive miscue by both JDG and Logan Emory led to the winning goal. At the final whistle I looked out and saw Ecks pounding the turf in frustration; minutes later when awarded one of the spurious `Man of the Match` trophies he barely stood still to receive it and then stormed off the pitch. That is passion.

You can count on him to not give up; not even if he loses a boot as he did in the late August match against Columbus - arguably his best match all season that not shockingly came in one of his few late season performances at right back. If only his teammates had put in that kind of effort each and every match...

Known last year for not only his grit, but his temper, Ecks toned it down this past season with only 5 yellow cards in 10 more games played (well there was that red card against Montreal in the Voyageurs Cup but still). He is still a young player so this added maturity is a welcome addition to his game.

However what is obvious is that for Ecks to be a consistently successful member of TFC he needs to be at right back. Not mystifyingly in the centre when other options were available as they were much of the season. It was frustrating to see him game in, game out slotted into the centre by Paul Mariner while Adrian Cann, Dicoy Williams(both once fit), Ty Harden and Doneil Henry sat on the bench while the cringe-inducing Jeremy Hall played on the right. Ecks is not meant to be the backline general and that`s clear in his play. But put him at the right? That changes the game that TFC plays and usually for the better.

There is no danger that Eckersley will not be back next season. He is a favourite of Mariner`s (and the feeling seems to be mutual) and is obviously going to be a starter next season. The only question is, where? For my sake, the fans`sake and TFC`s sake we should all hope to see him on the right, where he belongs.

Duncan: 8 Eckersley's year was a difficult one to judge really, given how long he spent as a centre back rather than a right back. He's got certain qualities to him, the classic unrefined English, play hard not smart thing that at first glance is very much endearing. It works much better for him at right back, where he can enthusiastically bomb forward and cause genuine problems, and where the downside of 'not smart' doesn't hurt the team as much. By far his best game under Paul Mariner came in the game at Columbus when he was suddenly switched to right back, with Dicoy Williams given a chance in the middle, and he, and TFC as a whole looked a lot more dangerous, much more of a threat than when Jeremy Hall or Doneil Henry was manning the right side.

That didn't last of course as Eckersley was preferred at centre back ahead of Williams, Henry, Adrian Cann, and Ty Harden. I don't necessarily think he was worse than any of those options, but he certainly wasn't better enough to justify the downgrade on the right. All very puzzling.

His status was one of the main TFC plotlines through the winter, would he be back again, could they work out a deal with Burnley. Eventually they did, but worries about how TFC would compete with his championship wages came true when the salaries were released, with the guaranteed salary close to $400,000, an outrageous amount that should be getting you one of the best defenders in MLS, a real difference maker, not someone as flawed as Eckersley.

As I said, he's a very English defender, I remember reading a stat that John Terry led Euro 2012 in blocks. Admirable and heroic stuff no doubt, but I'd rather have a smart calm defender and defence as a whole that can effectively mark his man and stop the shots coming in the first place. Eckersley shares that trait, and it's one we saw plenty of times as he'd leave his man to try make the desperate last ditch tackle, or block.

From close to the start of the season, against San Jose, watch as he decided, nope, no need to mark Lenhart or Wondolowski, I'll just drop to the goal line to try and block the shot, he ends up blocking Milos Kocic as the ball goes through his legs on the way to the net. Watch again later in thee same game as he completely leaves Wondolowski alone to take the shot, instead running to the line.

In mid season, after Milos Kocic had made numerous saves to hold on to the 2-1 lead against New England, right at the death, he's beaten as the ball deflects off Eckersley right in front of him, who had of course completely abandoned the defensive line trying to defend the cross, leaving a large space for Chris Tierney to run into.

Towards the end of the season, well there was that game against New York where Thierry Henry was unstoppable and Eckerlsey was like a moth to a flame, abandoning Kenny Cooper, no threat there, oh no, to help his fellow defenders, knocking over Freddy Hall in the process, only to see Cooper then receive the ball for an easy goal. he does a similar thing late in the game for New York's 3rd, again leaving Cooper wide open.

It's very harsh to blame Eckersley too much. I'm sure there's cases where this style has bailed the defence out, and on all those examples just cherry picked, there's plenty of blame to go around. That's what may be the problem though. Unless something drastic happens in the off season, TFC's defence will remain a very chaotic place, and I don't think Eckersley's talents are ever going to be suited to that. Plonk him down in a well organised defence, and his minuses would be negated while his pluses, the enthusiasm and the attacking instincts would be very helpful. Under Aron Winter, and as centre back under Mariner, that really hasn't been the case.

He's clearly a favourite of Paul Mariner so his future isn't in doubt, at least in the short term he'll be back. Hopefully at some point during his stay here TFC will become that competent club that can cover for the mistakes of, and utilise the benefits of an enthusiastic attacking right back with more balls than brains.

Dave: 5 He certainly had his ups and downs this season and lost a lot of the shine from last year but he was still one of the better defenders Toronto had despite being asked to play out of position and constantly being left exposed. He was a regular in the lineup and you always knew he was going to give his all which is saying something in such a bleak season.

John: 6 Along with O'Dea, could have some potential as a defensive partnership.

Michael: 2 Versatile but much better suited to FB role

The Ghost Of TFC Future: Just think how effective he would have been had he actually be played in postion… Still one of the most baffling things about the 2012 season.

The Yorkies: No idea how the GingaNinja got this high (1). The tallest redhead midget this year.

Jon Spratt: A steady performer despite not playing in his natural position most of the year.

Casual Soccer Fan: Our best starting RIGHT BACK.

DichioTFC: Toronto's favourite ginger, loveable Richard Eckersley, deserves a top-5 spot. The only constant on this team and, in my opinion, the unofficial non-DP MVP of this team. His aggression and dedication were top-notch. He was one of few players who performed well under Winter's system but also did well under Mariner. A threat down the right, his ability to make dangerous crosses at full pace in the attacking zone, while also reliable in the back to make crucial tackles makes him one of the league's best fullbacks, rivaling Galaxy's Todd Dunivant and Sporting KC's Chance Myers.

If there is one aspect that sets apart the great teams from the good ones in MLS, its a pair of attacking fullbacks. Eckersley and Ashtone Morgan are the reasons why my confidence in the club remains high in spite of a miserable season. If TFC gets the right pieces in place for 2013, we may have a dangerous attacking force to deal with - and Eckersley will finally get the respect he deserves.

Shem: Played out of position, but you know what you get from Ecks.

Prizby: A star of a man played out of position from June on. Eckersley always left it all on the pitch and played with the never say die attitude despite the many gloomy results.

MCB: flashes of brilliance, but he is part of that porous defence; perhaps when he returns to the corner, things will improve

Sir Alphonso Applegate: Another solid year for Ecks but his price tag is crippling and CB exposed his shortcomings more than RB does.

Ignirtoq: The boy has got some fire out there and it's needed in a team as dour, undertalented and sad as this is.

JC_Plante: Played a lot. Getting way too much credit for playing out of position. He still allowed a ton of goals.

Panos Kelamis: TFC's most consistent defender yet consistently played out of position

Number 2: Terry Dunfield

Number 4: Luis Silva

Full Top 31 Countdown

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