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Toronto FC Top 31 Countdown: #9 - Darren O'Dea

Received a mixed greeting when he joined the club ranging anywhere between thinking he would finally be the cure to all of the club's defensive woes to sadness at the simple fact that he was not Olof Mellberg. In the end, he played a few solid games down the stretch setting himself up well for 2013. At number 9 it's Darren O'Dea.

Hands on his hips while the opposition celebrates.  Less of that next year please.
Hands on his hips while the opposition celebrates. Less of that next year please.
Jim McIsaac

Average Ranking: 8.94
Highest Ranking: 1
Lowest Ranking: 22

Dave: 22 When Toronto FC confirmed that they had signed Darren O'Dea on August 3rd it was greeted with the whole range of reactions from fans. Many fans were happy that the club had managed to sign a defender who had international experience, had played in the UEFA Champions League, and still had his best years in front of him as a 25 year old. To those fans he represented another player who could potentially finally be the centre back that the club has always been lacking. At the other end of the reaction scale were fans who saw a player coming in who was not Olaf Melberg or even on the same class but rather was an Irish international who had fallen out of favour at Celtic and Leeds United leading to his becoming available.

No matter where you fall in that range it is clear that most fans saw O'Dea as an upgrade on the current crop of defenders at TFC and he seemed to be a much safer signing than taking a chance on another lesser known player from Central/South America after that backfired twice in 2012.

O'Dea would not make his debut for the club until August 18th after returning from international duty with Ireland. It came in a 1-0 loss against Kansas City where he spent much of the game in a backline that featured Ashtone Morgan at right back, Logan Emory and left back, and Richard Eckersley at centre back. He did a good job of leading that group and the fact that Kansas only scored one despite controlling much of the play was a positive sign that O'Dea might finally be the one to stabilize the back four.

He would go on to make 9 league appearances and 1 CCL appearance for the club going the full 90 minutes every time. In his 10 appearances he did not make things magically better for TFC, he is yet to win a single game in TFC colours as the team wound up with a record of 0 wins, 2 draws, and 8 defeats. Not exactly the impressive record that he would have been hoping for when trying to make his impression on a new club and a new league.

It's not like the defence was better, but the forwards just couldn't score either, in the 10 games that O'Dea played TFC conceded 21 goals, failed to record a clean sheet, and allowed 3 or more goals on 3 different occasions. Giving up goals at a rate of 2.1 per game is bad even by TFC standards when you consider that over the entire MLS season they only gave up 1.8 goals per league game.

So how then should we judge O'Dea after his first few games with the club? Well, the stats may not look at all good for him but the easiest way to defend him is to look at the team that was around him much of that time. He joined a club that was heading downwards having lost key players to injury and seen others nailed to the bench. It was unlikely that any one player could have come in and turned that sinking ship around no matter how good they were.

O'Dea would be made captain of the team after Torsten Frings went down injured and despite being the newest player on the team he acquitted himself well in that role. Many times he showed that he had the natural ability to lead and organize a backline. It may not have shown on the stats sheet because the defense was under constant pressure and his partner in the middle, Eckersley, was often a total mess but O'Dea did lead and organize the backline better than almost any other defender we have had at TFC.

He certainly did not show enough in his 10 games to suggest that he could be the messiah of TFC's defense but rather he showed that he was willing to work hard to try and turn things around and even had enough skill to play a part in any improvements. The signs were there to suggest that if he were given a better defensive partner to work with or some protection from the midfield he might be able to show his defensive qualities.

O'Dea showed me a few things that leave me optimistic about him going into 2013. He showed that he knows how to play the game, where he needs to be, and how to organize a defense which is more than we could ever say for someone like Miguel Aceval. He showed that he has a good head and can help with defending set pieces but can also chip in with the odd attacking contribution when given the chance and he showed that he is dedicated to the cause and wants to win and that he has the attributes that make him a natural leader.

Hopefully his 10 games in 2012 have allowed O'Dea to settle in with the team so that when training camp comes around he is ready to hit the ground running. It will be interesting to see how he can do if he is given the chance to play in a more stable defense next season with hopefully a few less guys being put out of position.

His ranking of 9th this season probably has more to do with the hope that he brought along with him than his actual play. His 10 games for the club were enough to keep the hope alive that he will be a difference maker in 2013 even if he is not going to be the defensive messiah fans have long been searching for.

James: This was a great signing for a multitude of reasons.

He's big, vocal, and experienced; solid in the air and decent with the ball at his feet. Cost is an issue, but mitigating the price tag is the possibility of not solely being a short-term fix, as some other, more heralded options, would have been.

At the start of next season he will only be twenty-six, leaving a long career ahead of him. With Richard Eckersley and Ashtone Morgan, they could form the core of TFC's back-line for years to come.

He's not afraid to put the boot in and doesn't suffer fools gladly - as this tackle on Emilio Renteria indicates.

He can spot a pass - it was his awareness and brilliant cross that set up Terry Dunfield for a late equalizer in Houston.

Every MLS side has at least one recognized front man, O'Dea will likely be the defender assigned to mark that player on set-pieces, win aerial duels and play the stopper when under pressure.

His wonderful tackle on Jairo Arrieta, highlight unavailable - damn goal-mongering, sending the attacker head over heels, while cleanly removing the ball and cutting out the danger, is exemplary of that tenacity.

It will have been difficult for him to come into a struggling side midseason; to adapt to his new surroundings, the league, and his teammates. With a proper pre-season and a general increase in the quality around him, he could be the commanding presence at the back that the club has lacked for its entire existence.

His international commitments will be difficult, but with the league acknowledging the need to minimize the impact of scheduling conflicts, it shouldn't be too much of an issue.

Duncan: 9 'Alright kids, who wants Nesta?' 'yay!' 'oh, sorry, no. He's gone to Montreal, but hey, who wants Mellberg? You like Mellberg right?' 'yay' 'oh, sorry, dad says we can't have Mellberg, but how about Paul Robinson?' 'Eeeewww' 'bloody hell, alright then, check out Darren O'Dea, you're excited again now right?' 'hmm, yay, i guess, maybe'.

That's a bit harsh really isn't it, it's unfair to compare O'Dea to those that we might have had, but there was a definite wait and see feeling when O'Dea was announced. Former Celtic player, Irish international, only 25, all seems good. Bounced around the championship, nicknamed Darren O'Dear, not so much.

Did he impress? Yes, but he's one of those players that it's difficult to define exactly how, the stats as shown above certainly aren't flattering. That's hardly his fault though, TFC's defence was a crazy place to be this season, though it's an amusing but meaningless stat that the only two clean sheets we got after his arrival (Aguila, Montreal) were both achieved without him. One of TFC's problems, set piece goals conceded, definitely got a lot better after his arrival, though the old late goals conceded thing certainly didn't stop.

It's difficult to think of many highlights for him either, as it is for any defender really, they usually only stand out when things go wrong so instead of a particular tackle or header, I'll go with this interview as my favourite O'Dea moment of the year. Fed a couple of juicy softballs by Asif Hossain after the defeat in L.A, he categorically refuses to provide the simple, rah-rah answer, instead going with this.

"It's quite clear this squad isn't mentally strong enough, everyone can play 3-1 down, there's nothing to lose, when you're nil all that's when it counts and we weren't good enough when it was nil all"

Love that answer.

I'm looking forward to seeing how he does in a full season. He's an unspectacular but solid player, put him in a halfway competent defence and he'll do a decent job at this level for sure. Obviously his salary, $330,000 base salary doesn't help with bringing in quality players and reliable depth around him, but again, that's hardly his fault so it seems churlish to complain about that.

Michael:9 Lots of potential, jet lag and mid season arrival temper enthusiasm.

John: 7 Finally, we can dream of a coherent backline with O'Dea.

Kristin: 5 Future captain of the Reds. He may be overpaid (not his fault) but I've seen little to dislike about him. Vocal organizer, fairly sound position wise.

The Yorkies: Has the opportunity to be a defensive anchor and locker room leader. Hope he lives up to both next year.

The Ghost Of TFC Future: An Irish international, so that's impressive sounding. Him actually having to go away to play for Ireland, not so good. Obviously a vast improvement on who we've had in central defence. When signed, my Irish friend said he'd be the best centre back we've ever had. Lofty standards, those. If we can pair him with an actual central defender, he'll be an expensive asset.

Jon Spratt: Haven't seen much of "O'Dear" yet -- and that's a good thing. Looks like a solid MLS CB.

Casual Soccer Fan: Mariner's only good signing. A true boss.

DichioTFC: I actually felt O'Dea was a servicable defender, one that Toronto can finally rely upon to stabilize the historically porous backline. Unfortunately, Ives Galarcep from the fantastic Soccer By Ives blog rightfully indicated that O'Dea's $330K contract makes him one of the league's overpaid players. There are high hopes for the Ireland National Team CB, who, at the young age of 25, will absolutely be a force for any MLS striker. Plus, we know what's coming when the Irishman faces Thierry Henry and his New York Red Bulls. That alone is worth keeping him for 2013.

Prizby: He might the best, but also most expensive signing Mariner has made. Certainly the only Mariner signing that can hold down a regular spot in the starting XI. O’Dea’s arrival came as a much needed ‘rescue’ on the backline. Although the goals did not stop coming, his influence in the back was undeniable. I remember his very first game, in the first half–he had won something like six headers in the box, six tackles, and had cleared the ball out of the box five times. That was in the first half alone. He gives TFC a commanding central defender who will need an equal counterpart beside him to complete the starting backline.

Sir Alphonso Applegate: O'Dea will be a big help defensively go forward. He is commanding but not quick back there. #48 is stupid though

Ignirtoq: The brightest signing all year. Willing to wager that history will look back at his acquisition as "quite the coup".

JC_Plante: Only played a few matches but owned the backline. A great signing of a young player, only proves what could have been if Mellberg allowed to join.

David Kent: Steady, what a centre should be.

Panos Kelamis: In my mind, an average defender that is paid to be a excellent defender, his price tag will never be justified by his play, but only at 25, there is potential there

Number 8: Milos Kocic

Number 10: Reggie Lambe

Full Top 31 Countdown