There was a very clear top 4 in the Toronto FC Top 40 Countdown, and this player was a deserving part of it. By far the highest ranked defender and with the second most first place votes, number 4 is Richard Eckersley.
Average Ranking: 4.545
Highest Ranking: 1
Lowest ranking: 10
Duncan: 6. When you think of TFC's best players this year, they're almost all people who became Reds in the middle of the season, so when among their company, as he very much deserves to be, you tend to think of Eckersley as someone who was around pretty much all season, one of the few ever presents to play well throughout the year. In actual fact he didn't arrive until April 15th, and didn't start a league game until well into May.
Until then TFC had the motliest of motley crews playing at Right Back, generally either Dan Gargan or Ty Harden, but also Jacob Peterson in an experiment as short-lived as it was disastrous. So the announcement of his signing on loan for the season from Burnley was met with much relief and hope. For me, there was also amusement as with the way he looks, his accent and his straight out of Coronation Street name, he couldn't be more Northern English if he tried. That combined with the fact he'd most recently played for League Two sides Bradford and Bury instantly endeared him to me, even if had played for Man United, I really really wanted this kid to succeed.
He made his first start in Edmonton, and first league start against Houston in early May, and from then until his season ended with him limping out of the home game against Pumas, he proved well worth my support. In the half game he played in Edmonton, he showed more attacking instinct down the right than we'd seen on that side all season, and that proved a great strength all year. His ability to join the attack, and combine with Nick Soolsma, or Peri Marosevic or whoever his Right Winger was in any particular game was outstanding and his stats of 0 goals or assists in MLS really do him no justice at all. The closest he came to scoring was with this absolute rocket against the bar from about 30 yards out against Chivas USA.
He was also very good on the defensive end of things, easily being the best and most consistent defender TFC had all year, not exactly the most difficult task obviously, but an honour he very much earned. Uncompromising in the tackle, he also had good positional judgement and instincts that meant he was rarely out of position and often able to make crucial interceptions, to which he added a couple of big off the line clearances as well.
He also proved his versatility and unselfishness, uncomplainingly filling in at Centre Back a few times when TFC were depleted due to the Gold Cup, or when they were experimenting with a 3 man back line, doing what the team needed him to do though his attacking forays were definitely missed.
At the end of season town hall meetings, the one I attended anyway, a few different people specifically urged management to do everything they could to sign him permanently, and whether they can find a way to do that really is one of the biggest questions of this off season. Though it's all very much one of those hush hush unknown MLS things, most informed guesses suggest TFC really don't have the cap and allocation money to be paying a transfer fee as well as being able to afford anywhere near Eckersley's current wage.
Hopefully one way or another will be found to keep him around but unless he's willing to take a deep pay cut, I think the best case scenario would be for an extension of the loan for another season with TFC paying a portion of his wages that won't affect the salary cap too much. If we can do that and still have enough to strengthen other defensive positions, Eckersley should be able to go on and have an even better season in 2012.
Dave: 7. The English ginger proved why a club like Manchester United saw enough in him to give him a chance to break in with their squad. He never quite managed to reach that level and has since been on a string of loans. This season his loan to Toronto FC saw him get the chance to play starters minutes and he made the most of it. Ecks impressed at right back on a regular basis making the spot his own and being one of the few bright spots among the teams defenders. His impact was probably felt more going forward as he could make runs all game and swing in decent crosses now in then. Coming back though he proved able to put in a good tackle and take care of his responsibilities.
Keaton: 9. Great decision by Mariner and the gang to grab Ecks. He's lively and great on the wing. I really hope we can resign him because he'll play a massive part in next year's playoff drive.
Kristin: Great footballer. Needs to stay (both w/ the team & only on the right)
James: Hardest working man in Toronto, intelligent, likes a tackle, shouts at refs, all positives. No Johnny Big Boots about him, happy to be here, love for him to stay, cost permitting.
JC_Plante: Gets the number 1 spot because of volume of work/effort. Was head and shoulders above everyone else.
The Yorkies: TFC need to clone him thrice
Jimmy Stone: Always know what you are getting from Eckersley. I suspect he won't be at Toronto for the 2012 season.
Jeff Guscott: Overall i took eckersley number one because he was the most consistent player on the pitch day in and out...hope we can buy at the end of his loan.
Devon Taylor: Our best defender this year. Constant hustle and passion and stays composed under pressure.
Ignirtoq: Richard Eckersley played with such fire, pace, fearlessness and intelligence, he often was the only player on the pitch still trying down 2-0 with three minutes to go. We need to keep him and clone him.
Blindfolded Tank Driver: The only consistent performer, always reliable