Toronto FC 2013 Top 36 Countdown: Number 25 - Hogan Ephraim

At least it isn't turf - USA TODAY Sports

Hogan was no hero, or was he... At number 25, it's Hogan Ephraim

Average Ranking: 24.97
Highest Ranking: 13
Lowest Ranking: 36

James: 19

Hogan Ephraim was signed on loan from English club QPR on February 27, thrown into the starting lineup three days later in Vancouver and was gone some three months on.

During that brief spell he featured in eleven matches - starting the first nine of Toronto’s season, played 775 minutes, racked up neither a goal, nor an assist, took five shots, three of which were on target, and committed five fouls, winning eleven, while picking up two yellow cards.

Hardly impressive figures to be sure.

But such overarching statistics seldom paint players such as Ephraim in a great light.

True, goals and assists are good for the resume, and one could delve deeper into the numbers, looking for value in pass completion rates or number of chances created, and turnovers, lots and lots of turnovers - a shortcoming particularly pertinent to the impression the Englishman left on many in Toronto - but instead focus on the results.

This was always likely to be a difficult season and the early schedule was unkind to Toronto.

Away matches in Vancouver and Montreal mixed with home fixtures against Kansas City and Los Angeles; a meeting with then high-flying Dallas was followed by a trip to Philadelphia before returning home to face Houston.

Then Montreal again, twice, in the Voyageurs’ Cup, with a meeting against New York in between and a trip to Colorado after.

Those were the nine league matches for which Ephraim was a primary figure – six playoff teams.

Leaving aside the costly late goals, Toronto picked up points in five of that gauntlet – four draws and a win – while never losing by more than a single goal (aside from that night in Montreal).

If one considers the late concessions – four wins turned to draws and two draws turned to losses – that is a pretty good start to the season and as an attacking player he could hardly be faulted for those repeated defensive breakdowns.

Never the sort of player to garner headlines, Ephraim was a combiner and possessed a less-definable quality than simple stats could convey.

In his debut against Vancouver, playing on turf no less, Ephraim was one of the busier players on the pitch, driving the confused Toronto attack, tracking deep, collecting loose balls, and crafting one of their better chances from his station on the left, squaring a ball to middle of the box, drawing a desperate clearance from Jun Marques Davidson.

That strong outing saw Ryan Nelsen invest enough faith in Ephraim to move him into the centre for the next four matches.

Against Kansas City, Ephraim, again on turf - this time whatever it is that they covered the concrete at the SkyDome with, showed that attacking instinct and a good touch to put Aurelien Collin into a compromising position on the counter, drawing a yellow card for an intentional handball. Perhaps it could have been red and the hot-headed Collin was lucky to not be dismissed before the final whistle.

And his awareness was again on display later in the match when he coolly laid Ashtone Morgan down the left, setting up another TFC chance.

It was that sort of connecting play, though ultimately wasted, that marked his time in Toronto.

The next week against Montreal he nearly scored, directing a difficult bouncing ball off the bar, and evidenced a measure of forward thrust, taking a dangerous touch into the Montreal box, only to see his square ball cut out.

Once more in the middle facing LA, Ephraim showed the inaccuracy that earned him scorn during his spell, sending a curling effort wide.

But he followed that up with a fine match against Dallas – perhaps his best – where he was lively and involved, especially once he drifted out to the left, where he would spend the majority of his tenure with TFC.

A lovely little back-heel crafted a chance for Luis Silva, while it was his cross that led to Justin Braun’s goal:

Note how wide open in space on the left he is on Braun’s goal and how long it took for the ball to get to him there; it was a theme of his time with the club.

Not quite dynamic enough to dominate in the middle of the park, where physicality, speed and that something special are necessary to break free of the tightly-defended areas of the pitch, Ephraim was shunted out left, which should have worked, were his teammates able to find him with the ball in a more timely fashion – something they rarely did.

That’s not to say he didn’t have the vision and passing ability to pull off those special moments – such as this pass for Robert Earnshaw against Philadelphia, who was unfortunately offside.

The thing about players like Ephraim is that they require skilled players around them with whom to work, they are parts of a greater whole, rather than individual stars, and that takes a measure of familiarity, to know when and where to expect one’s teammates.

The Toronto team that he joined was one being hastily assembled on the fly, with a constantly evolving cast of characters, and a coach still bedding his system into a side.

The first goal of any new manager is to solidify the defense, especially a manager who made his living as a defender.

That was clearly Nelsen’s intention in starting out with the much en vogue 4-2-3-1, opting to play two recognized defensive midfielders – Jeremy Hall and Terry Dunfield - in front of the back four, leaving Ephraim, Reggie Lambe, John Bostock, and Earnshaw to largely craft for themselves in attack.

It was not until the Dallas match that Jonathan Osorio made his first start, adding a more forward-thinking outlook to that defensive shield.

Added to that compact outlook, was the lack of familiarity between those players, most playing - and training - with each other for the first time; with the rigours of travel who knows how much actual training got done.

Never mind that he was a player adjusting to a new league on a new continent at the drop of the hat and without having played much regular first-team football in the lead-up to his loan.

But still Ephraim could see and play the pass - say this touch to set up Silva once more against Houston or this ball to the near-post for Earnshaw that same match – but needed an equally competent receiver to apply the finishing touch.

Ephraim was forced off at half-time against New York the next match, picking up a slight knock, but returned for TFC’s visit to Colorado

Sitting in the East Stand of BMO Field, as fewer and fewer were wont to do over the course of the season, a regular sight though the early goings would be Ephraim in acres of space, screaming and gesticulating madly, desperate to be released by the cross-field ball to switch the focus of attack, only for Toronto to muddle through the midfield or around the back, no one willing or able to take the risk and hit that early, cutting, penetrating pass to open up play.

One criticism that could never be applied to Ephraim was that he shirk the responsibility of being on the ball – he always wanted to be involved.

In Colorado, having taken a dastardly cheap shot from Atiba Harris – a rabbit punch that went unseen by either the referee or the disciplinary committee – Ephraim was losing patience.

That match was Matias Laba’s debut, finally a player who could see that pass, but even that match Ephraim was ignored, looking for the quick ball, but sulking in frustration when he was overlooked.

Whether the decision had already been made that he would return to England or the recent arrivals of Laba, Jeremy Brockie, and Bobby Convey squeezed him out, Ephraim was left out of the starting lineup in San Jose, then out of the eighteen altogether against Columbus.

He made a final cameo appearance in New England, replacing Earnshaw for the last twenty minutes of the match and showed further glimpse of that class, cutting past Andy Dorman in the middle and playing a penetrating ball for Silva that led to Jeremy Hall’s excellent look, but he fired wide.

He was again out of the eighteen against Philadelphia and left the club three days later on June 4.

There was some disparity over how exactly that transpired, with the league stating the loan was terminated and he was placed on waivers and Ephraim himself, as documented by Waking the Red’s own Armen Bedakian, indicating he had been recalled to prepare for ready for the club’s impending pre-season.

It must be said that trial by highlight clip is a one-sided practice – as any video compilation touting the merits of this player or that will attest.

It took little time to find video of the good moments – nobody ever bothers to keep a record of all the missed passes, overhit crosses, poor set-piece service, and the like.

Either way, more was expected of him than he provided, especially for his reported cap-hit of $180 000 – though of course how much was salary and what was loan fee is unknown.

Ephraim will fade into the huddled masses of former players who once donned the red of TFC, neither as bad as many will remember him, nor as good as he could have been.

He can now be found plying his trade back in England having recently been loaned from QPR to Peterborough United of League One, where he plays for the Posh under Darren Ferguson – sound familiar?

It is only a month-long loan, beginning on November 8, but he has already reportedly shown those skills highlighted above – linking up and threading passes, entering as a substitute and helping to turn the tide in their FA Cup tie with Exeter City.

Duncan: 32. I'm really not sure what to say about Ephraim, there's very little I remember about him. A loan signing was a good idea, like Bostock he was worth a shot and presumably Nelsen had an idea what he was getting form his former teammate. He hit the bar at Montreal, but then never really seemed to have much of an impact, I'm glad I didn't have to try and write a few hundred words about him. Think he might be invisible as not only did I not really notice him much, but he seemed to find a lot of open space out on the pitch as if the opposition didn't notice him, but then never get the ball as if his teammates didn't notice him.

Dave: 22. Those talented young English players brought with them so much hope but in the end not a whole lot of real production. Ephraim will be most remembered by me for the times that he was bouncing up and down on the sideline flailing his arms while the rest of the team ignored him and passed the ball elsewhere. They were probably right though as most of the time that he got the ball he did not do a whole lot with it.

Armen: 27. Soft-spoken and carrying a massive label to his name, this QPR midfielder failed to ignite at TFC.

Kristin: 25. Short term loan deal that never clicked. Never synched with his teammates, instead looking petulant far too often and rarely effective going in either direction. His 'call back' to QPR was quite frankly welcome news.

Bruce Harding. I was actually quite please we signed him, but wasn't so much when I saw him play.

David kent: No

Elusivecart: best player on planet.  i have a 1/1 card from this year's card set.  special WTR price just for you!!

Ignirtoq: #somehowPlayedForQPR

Josh Mote: Flailing around in miles of open space, Hogan's number 20 for me.

Killinghurst: Had a few decent games, but never showed enough promise to stick around…although I have to admit, he would have been a drastic upgrade on Reggie Lambe.

Michaelvee: Ephraim's loan was not exactly a managerial blockbuster but he played some minutes, added some technical skill, and when he was gone, nobody really noticed.

Prizby I think his one shining moment for me came when he ringed one off the crossbar...I think that was at Montreal in front of our MLS record setting away crowd; felt that was more impressive than Ephraim's time in Toronto

Schtevetown: People criticized the loan deals, but it worked in this case. This guy was invisible. Will not live long in the collective TFC memory.

Tim: talented but not here he wasn't. I'll take Rey

Yohan: Showed some technical skill, but mysteriously, played out of position from his preferred winger spot most of his stay in Toronto. Didn't show enough to keep around unfortunately.

Number 24: Ryan Richter

Number 26: Stefan Frei

Full Top 36 Countdown

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