When Toronto FC open BMO Field for the first time this weekend against the L.A. Galaxy it could be with an interesting wrinkle in the lineup. That wrinkle could be starting Richard Eckersley at left back against the reigning MLS champions. It is not a total shock that Ecks could go to the left side considering that he filled in there against the Montreal Impact following Ashtone Morgan being subbed off in favour of Darel Russell.
With Morgan off with Canada for the past week it has allowed Eckersley to spend the bye-week working as a left back while Russell filled in on the right. Having trained that way over the past week it would not be a surprise to see the team stick with that back line against LA even with Morgan returning from international duty.
Morgan has been struggling this season and unlike in the past his offensive contributions have not been enough to make up for his below average defending. It has left TFC exposed down the left on a number of occasions and put added pressure on Darren O'Dea to shift over to cover that side of the field leaving Danny Califf with his hands full in the middle.
In any back four a single weak link is enough to throw the entire unit off as players begin to shift to compensate for one another. For more on Morgan's early season struggles check out the in depth insight from Wednesday. It is clear that Morgan is far from the finished product so maybe dropping him to the bench for a game or two while working with him in training would be enough to get the young defender back on track.
If you do drop Morgan it does leave the club with limited options on the left side of defense. Newly signed Ryan Richter could probably help out there as we have been assured that he is quite versatile but he seems more likely to serve as an option off the bench at least to start. There is also Logan Emory but we have not seen anything from him this season as he has been out injured so it is far to soon to be counting on him to solve the issues down the left.
That basically leaves the team with one option, play someone out of their natural position. The one player on the roster that is the best candidate for playing out of position is Eckersley. His high work rate often makes up for the flaws in his game and has allowed him to at least look competent at both right back and centre back.
Ecks is strongly right footed so there will be some challenges that come with him playing on that side of the backline but against Montreal was not the first time that he was deployed on the left in his playing career. For that fans can thank Manchester United which insists on their young outside defenders learning to play on both sides of the field during their development.
While developing at United Ecks spent some of his time working on the left which was intended to make him a more complete player. When Ecks was a teenager many scouts that watched him felt that he could be used on either side of the defense. He would make his breakthrough on the right side where he has played for the most part since but that training is still there for him to call upon should Ryan Nelsen decide to use him on the left.
The other major element in the case for Ecks being used on the left is the fact that the club does have more cover for the right side of the back four. They can slot Russell in on that side and immediately have a veteran presence that should bring stability to the back four.
TFC fans have not gotten to see a whole lot of Russell thus far but his resume is strong and there is not doubt that he has the pedigree to compete at this level, the question with him is if he still has enough left in the tank to get the job done. His last stop at Portsmouth was less than impressive so there is reason for concern about his current skill level. That said, the coaching staff has seen him in practice for weeks now so they should know what to expect should he make the starting lineup.
If Toronto FC does go with a back line of Eckersley - O'Dea - Califf - Russell against the Galaxy it would be a very experienced group that should be more reliable defensively. The trade off is that it would offer less going forward than you get by including Morgan in the lineup. Considering the fire power in the Galaxy's attack that trade off might just be a good one to make for at least this week.
Any such move should be for the short term only though while Morgan remains the long term option on the left. Giving him some time on the bench where he can watch and learn would be good for his game and could allow him to come back into the starting lineup at the level where this team needs him to be.
For this week at least putting Ecks out of his natural position is the best option that Ryan Nelsen has at his disposal so it should not be a surprise to see him on the left against LA. What will be interesting to watch is just how long Nelsen goes with that back line or if he reverts to starting Morgan on the left sooner rather than later. That may for the most part come down to just how well Russell does on the right because unless he performs well there is no reason to have Ecks out of position on the left.