Oh Captain my Captain. We've come a long way over the last 40 days, all the way from Leandre Griffit, and finally we reach number one. It's only appropriate that it's the captain, and a player whose impact will be felt long after he's gone. Number One in the Toronto FC 2011 Top 40 Countdown is Torsten Frings.
Average Ranking: 1.864
Highest Ranking: 1
Lowest Ranking: 6
Duncan: 1. Over two weeks before the July transfer window opened, and looking to make a big splash, Toronto FC hurled themselves off the highest diving board they could find, introducing Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings at the same press conference. I never had any doubt that Frings would have a big effect off the pitch, which I'll get into after the jump, but how about on the pitch?
A 34 year old Defensive Midfielder? TFC were already assured to be out of MLS playoff contention in 2011, would he still be around and able to contribute in that vague future when TFC are actually good? How much could he contribute anyway, I mean, sure, coming straight from the Bundesliga sounds impressive, but Julian de Guzman was younger, and very recently had put in a club MVP year in La Liga, and he'd proven that DM's can't really influence the game that much and are a poor choice for a DP. Were we really making the same mistake again?
In short, no. Frings blew away all the arguments from the De Guzman apologists pretty much right off the bat. Playing his first few games in midfield, he almost immediately looked more effective than de Guzman ever had. Winning tackles and taking charge on the defensive side of things, and being the man everything went through when it came to attacking and linking defence and the midfield, Frings was everything we thought we'd get out of De Guzman when he came along in 2009. Most of his passes were of the short and simple variety, but most importantly they were often quick, he didn't need that extra second to be able to control the ball and then figure out what he was going to do with it, he was clearly thinking a step ahead of most of the players TFC have employed so far.
It's De Guzman himself who provides the best example of how Frings helped others in the team, as he was a vastly improved player after Frings came along, seeming to play with more freedom knowing that Frings was behind him. It also seemed as if a weight was off De Guzman's shoulders as he was no longer The Man everyone was looking to. Whereas De Guzman failed to live up to that and seemed to get dragged down to everyone else's level, Frings seemed to relish the challenge of being the one to grab the team by the scruff of it's neck and make everyone play better.
The midfield and attack looked much improved with him and Danny Koevermans there, but Andy Iro of course failed to have a similar galvanising effect on the defence, and so it was that Frings stepped up, and stepped back to help out. Most of the last couple of months saw Frings between Iro and Ty Harden in the heart of a 3-4-3/5-2-3 formation. Until then, Iro and Harden had been one of TFC's worst Centre Back combos ever, and there's some strong competition. The extra man, and the sense of calm and organisation Frings brought enabled them to focus on the basic things they do well with a bit of a safety net for when things went wrong, and that change ensured a much needed improvement, both individually and as a unit, while also allowing the full backs to step up and contribute to the attack. Probably the biggest testament to his influence back there is that in the two most important games of the season, against Pumas when he was suspended and against Dallas when he was surprisingly moved back into midfield, the defence, and especially Ty Harden stepped up and played much better than they previously seemed capable of doing.
To avoid this becoming a bit too sunshiney and lollipopesque, I'll point out that his set pieces were really poor and never seemed to pose a threat, but that, combined with an inability to get along with CONCACAF refs that saw him suspended twice in CCL action are the only real negatives I can think of. But it's off the pitch that he's had the biggest impact and here I'll break for a brief voter comment that sums things up perfectly.
Peter Meraw: On this rock we will build our church.
Throughout it's existence so far, TFC has been difficult to take seriously, the constant losing, more coaches than seasons, the revolving door of players, a five year plan that seemed to have 'panic and wildly react' at its core, and the drama, oh the drama. When they arrived, Aron Winter and Paul Mariner talked about bringing a winning culture, but the first half of the season just seemed a continuation of the old pattern. The revolving door actually picked up pace, the De Ro saga didn't end well, and plenty of traded players had bad things to tweet after they left. Enter Frings.
When asked about changes he wanted to make, Winter often mentioned bringing in leaders in midfield and defence, as if character was more important than skill to set the club on the right track, and Frings certainly met that criteria. Anyone with 79 German caps and over a decade of experience in the Bundesliga is going to immediately command respect, if he was on board with whatever Winter was trying to do, that influence would be felt throughout the first team and down through the ranks to the academy kids. In a recent Red Nation Online interview, Julian de Guzman talked about the difference in the dressing room culture when compared to previous years
You walk into the dressing room now and you just feel football right away. In previous years, I'm sure you walked into the changing room and it was kind of half football and half other things from your private life.
Without any kind of inside knowledge of the inner workings of the dressing room, I'd happily put money on Frings' presence being a huge part of that. He didn't get the captain's armband immediately on arrival, more out of politeness to club 'captain' Maicon Santos than anything else, but it was obvious right from the start that he was the real leader Winter had been waiting for, and he was the only choice to assume the captaincy after Santos left.
He obviously won't have many years with Toronto FC, as he ages he may become less effective on the pitch, and it seems like he's set to move back to Germany and into a coaching job at Werder Bremen after he retires, but his influence and example will live on long after he leaves. Management had already started the process of changing the culture, but years from now, I think Frings' arrival will be seen as the tipping point in TFC's transformation from being a sideshow to finally being a serious football team.
Dave: 2. What can you really say about the former German international besides heap praise on him. He has been a real leader for the club and you hear all the players talking about the impact he has had on the team in the dressing room, in training, and on the field. You can hardly put a price tag on the experience and leadership that he brings to the club so I would actually say his salary is a bit of a steal for Toronto and it is impressive that they managed to attract a player of his quality.
Whether Torsten has been in the midfield or the defense he always makes his area of the team miles better. He turned the backline from a shambolic mess of a back four into a relatively effective back five making Iro and Harden look like they are actually good enough to be in the MLS. When he was in the midfield he helped the team create all kinds of chances and look really dangerous going forward. Frings also seemed to have a way of bringing out the best in players like De Guzman who suddenly seemed more motivated and calm with the German behind him. All in all Frings has been a real difference maker since his arrival midseason.
Keaton: 1. What to say that hasn't already been said. This man was so influential when he came to BMO, that he didn't even have to speak English to captain the squad. I hope he stays on with the club long after he retires because he brings a mad amount of European Pedigree to BMO Field.
Kristin: Changed the team - leadership, field presence, knowledge - best signing ever.
Michelle: When Frings and Koevermans came everything changed…for the better.
James: Captain and worthy of the title. Will be instrumental in redefining the culture of the club, can think of few better players in the world to build around.
JC_Plante: Was scared because previous defensive DP didn't work out, but brought clear leadership and made JDG better as well. Should be better with Cann/Williams/Harden at CB next year and Bouchiba to relieve him
Macs_Daddy: Absolute quality
The Yorkies: Most naturally talented Red ever
Jimmy Stone: Want more from a DP player but a good first season all the same. Calming influence
Canadian Texan: I was like "he's over the hill". I was like: wrong
Devon Taylor: Doesn't have the goals of D.Koef or Plata, but has provided a calming influence that has been desperately missing in the previous 4.5 years. One of the reasons JDG has excelled in the last half of this season.
Blindfolded Tank Driver: No other player has brought more stability to TFC before Frings.