Frei's back. Now if only we could see such an elegant understated, traditional dark green goalie jersey again.
Before preseason started, we at Waking the Red had a look at the state of Toronto FC's squad, who were the number one players, what holes needed to be filled and what selection controversies there were. Now we've seen some signings come in and got to see everyone play a few times, we're revisiting it to see what's changed, what's been clarified and just where we stand heading into the season. After the jump I'll be looking at the much improved defence, but I'll start with the goalies.
Back in January, I rehashed the Frei v Kocic argument that really came to the fore at the end of the 2011 season. Stefan Frei is the better shot stopper, but Milos Kocic seems better at coming for crosses and commanding his area and instilling the necessary confidence in his defence. The choice of Kocic to play the last few games of the season after Frei's return from injury meant there was significant room for doubt as to who was number one. From what we saw in preseason, where both goalies played a full game and then 45 minutes in the Orlando tournament, for me at least, that doubt has almost disappeared.
Kocic hasn't played badly at all, much like last season he's done what needed to be done, confidently organising his defence and the only goal he let in in 135 minutes of action was from a penalty. Frei though had a very very good tournament. His shot stopping ability was displayed against Orlando when he rescued a point for a struggling Reds side, but it's the difference in his command of his area that stood out for me. He took charge, coming for crosses or corners that he would have left alone last year, and doing it very well. One noticeable difference was with his starting position at corner kicks, rather than on the goalline as if getting ready to make a save, he was starting off 4 or 5 yards out, ready to come out and grab the cross before anyone got the chance to get a header on target. That sort of attitude could really cut down on the shooting gallery he regularly faced last year, as well as instill more confidence in the defence. It's a testament to Frei and new goalie coach Stewart Kerr, and for me means Frei is once again back as the obvious number one choice, leaving Kocic as a very capable backup.
As for the defence, well back in January, that was looking in particularly rough shape. Going only by signed and fit players, the best available back line was Ashtone Morgan, Ty Harden, Doneil Henry and Matt Stinson. Fortunately the long rumoured additions became official shortly into preseason so things are looking a lot better. Morgan is still first choice at Left Back, and had 3 good games in Orlando to cement that position. Richard Eckersley is back, and though he wasn't a real standout in preseason, his work last year means he's the undisputed Right Back. With Jeremy Hall injured, back up full backs that are actually signed with the big club are thin on the ground right now. Obviously Matt Stinson showed last year he can play Right Back, but he's played in midfield throughout preseason, and done it very well, so may well be seeing plenty of minutes there rather than at Right Back.
Centre Back is, still, as always, much more of a question mark. Miguel Aceval is one of the new players and though after seeing him in action in 3 games I'm not seeing him as the man who'll solve all our problems, he has looked like an upgrade on what we had last year, and with the added benefit of his free kick abilities, I'd say he's got the Left Centre Back spot nailed down for now. Beside him? Well, Geovanny Caicedo had a particularly rugged game against Orlando City, and hasn't been seen since, with talk of a minor knee injury. Doneil Henry and Aaron Maund have both looked quite good in the minutes they've seen as substitutes, but I'd be loathe to throw either of them into the first team right away. With Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams both still injured, that leaves us with Ty Harden. It's not as bad as it sounds, he's a steady and competent defender, and with a good defence around him, he'll look alright, as he did in Orlando. Hopefully either Cann can reclaim his form from 2010 or a fully fit Caicedo can prove he can adapt to the MLS style of play, and Harden can be shuffled down to what's probably his more natural level, the bench.
If everyone's injured, there's a lot of depth there, which may see someone moved sideways into a back up full back role. Doneil Henry played occasionally at Right Back last year, including shutting down Brek Shea in the big game against Dallas, so that might be a good way for him to get closer to the first team.
Anyway, here's what I'd say our starting goalie and back 4 now looks like.