What to do with Toronto FC’s German maestro?
It’s a bit of a conundrum, really – if you judge him at the prime of his career, Torsten Frings is one of the top three players in Major League Soccer, alongside Arsenal legend Thierry Henry and Irish captain Robbie Keane. His quality is apparent even at 36 years of age, and his presence in the Toronto FC line provides a noticeable difference.
Remember Frings’ first game in the red shirt of Toronto FC? The immediate, tangible difference in quality he provided was unlike any other player in Toronto FC’s history, barring Dwayne De Rosario. Frings made everyone around him better, and it’s this trait that Toronto FC will be hoping it can bank on in 2013.
His absence hurt Toronto FC in the second half of 2012, and the club, lacking options, ended up playing young and inexperienced draft pick Aaron Maund at central midfield, though the emergence of Terry Dunfield as a dependable every game option eased the burden in midfield somewhat.
With Dunfield and Maund, Toronto FC merely had a temporary solution, and not a very convincing one at that – the Reds still lacked midfield presence without Frings. The good news is that Frings is expected to return for the first-kick in 2013, and, if healthy, will be captaining the side for his third season.
Yet, the case can be made that Frings, who is no stranger to injuries and knocks, has lost a step in pace, and simply cannot be relied upon any longer. At his age, retirement is just around the corner, and in a tough, physical league like Major League Soccer, which demands midfielders be both technically sound, defensively capable, and, most importantly, quick, Frings may actually be detrimental to Toronto FC’s 2013 campaign.
Two years ago, when Frings first signed with Toronto FC, there was a fear underlying the jubilant mood of the signing – while Toronto celebrated their swoop of a top European talent, the age-factor was always going to come into play soon enough, that time may be now.
But plenty of older players have succeeded, too, and Frings is no grandpa! The problem comes in relying on a player who cannot be here in the long-term. It was a warning issued two years ago, and a warning issued once more, today: relying on Frings is a dangerous game to play. Los Angeles managed to get six seasons out of David Beckham; something Toronto FC will not be able to say with Frings. Finding a suitable replacement for the German is key in the offseason.
If TFC do try and move on without Frings, the replacement will have to come from outside the current squad. Maund has been traded away and Dunfield, bless him, just isn’t the answer in midfield for Toronto FC. His undoubted effort sadly isn't matched by his quality, and turning 31 before the season starts, he's no spring chicken either. As it stands, the quality of the defensive midfielders Toronto FC possess just isn’t good enough. There needs to be better alternatives to Frings and Dunfield on the roster. There needs to be more than two competent defensive midfielders.
Between now and the start of the season, there will of course be signings, attempts to address this problem. One name linked heavily to TFC so far is Honduran international Arnold Peralta. Whether that move does come to fruition or not, Peralta represents the right direction to be looking in – aim for youth, aim for experience, quality and sustainability. Players coming in must be here for the long term. It’s why more and more designated players are being signed at younger ages – there’s no point building around a one-to-two season player, especially with TFC looking a long way away from being competitive within that timeframe.
Aside from discovery signings from overseas, there are plenty of players within MLS that Toronto FC can consider; for example, there have been whispers, though quickly shot down, of Jeff Larentowicz from Colorado Rapids, which would be a great option if Toronto FC could pull it off; Ben Zemanski from Chivas USA is a good choice, and with Chivas rebuilding, one that Toronto FC can realistically look at; Dax McCarty has been shopped around the league and with New York looking at new designated players post-Marquez, McCarty could be signed for allocation money; Philadelphia’s Michael Farfan is a quality midfielder who has been with the Union since 2011 and could be swayed by the allure of a new challenge, though his brother, Gabriel, would also be a strong depth signing!
Then there’s the 2012 MLS SuperDraft – Toronto FC have picks #1 and #3, and could use one on a midfielder and one as trade bait. It’s the perfect way to fill out the roster, so long as Toronto FC pick up enough quality for either pick to gain a starting XI player – should Toronto draft a midfielder, he wouldn’t be quite ready just yet: this years’ draft, it seems, isn’t heavy on quality midfielders.
Regardless of which player Toronto FC ultimately settles on, the underlying philosophy of the next midfielder should be about as straightforward as it can get – find someone sustainable.
It’s time Toronto FC was weaned off of Torsten Frings.
He won’t be here forever!