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Toronto FC Top 31 Countdown: Number 5 - Torsten Frings

Injuries sidelined our beloved captain costing him a good chunk of his 2012 season but also costing him a real chance to defend his crown from last year's "TFC Top 40 Countdown". He actually played more games than last season for TFC but his impact was not as great. At number 5, it's Torsten Frings.

Frings and Eckersley celebrate the German's lovely goal against the Caps
Frings and Eckersley celebrate the German's lovely goal against the Caps

Average Ranking: 5.71
Highest Ranking: 1
Lowest Ranking: 13

Dave: 8 When Torsten Frings, along with Danny Koevermans, arrived at Toronto FC in 2011 it seemed that they were going to be the two players that finally took this team to the promised land of a playoff birth. They instantly improved the team in 2011 with Koef scoring the goals and Frings helping to keep them out and without them there would not have been a CONCACAF Champions League semi-final appearance to enjoy this spring.

Frings, the clear leader of the team, struggled through a couple of nagging injuries over the course of the 2012 season but for the most part he continued to be a valuable contributor to the team before being shut down for the season in late August so that he could have surgery on his damaged hip.

Before being sidelined by injury Frings would make 20 MLS appearances, 4 in the CCL, and 3 in Voyageurs cup. Logging over 1800 minutes and making 27 appearances is actually a pretty impressive feat for a 36 year old midfielder who has already logged a lot of miles on his body over the years and it is no real surprise that he ended up breaking down towards the end of the season.

It often seemed that Frings was struggling with the gruelling MLS schedule and all the minutes that he was being asked to play for the team during the busy stretches. Under Paul Mariner that seemed to become even more of a problem as Frings was often left out to play the full 90 minutes even though it seemed like he was out of gas towards the end of the game having put in so much effort the rest of the game. In the 15 MLS games that Frings was healthy for under Mariner he would play the entire 90 minutes 13 times only being subbed out against the New England Revolution (6/23) and against the Columbus Crew (8/22) when he looked even more tired than normal. Add in a useless 45 minutes of play against Liverpool (7/21), 62 minutes against Aguila (8/1), and 90 minutes against Santos Laguna (8/28) and you have him playing almost every single available minute over a period of just over 2 months. To be fair to Mariner, Frings never looked happy to be subbed off, so it's not like he was out there against his will.

Now it is fair to expect a lot from a player that you are paying millions of dollars and who is one of your designated players but expecting a 36 year old to log that many minutes in the middle of a tough season is not really a recipe for success. As a result of playing so much Frings was often tired and his performances this year sometimes suffered. He remains the class of the club's midfield but he was not the dominant force that we saw for stretches of 2011 when he was well rested prior to joining the team.

He had a slow start to the season thanks to suffering an injury in Seattle that would cost him 4 MLS games along with both legs of the semi-final against Santos. He would suffer a shoulder injury against DC United (5/5) which was not enough to keep him out of the Voyageurs Cup match against Montreal but it would cost him the first leg of the final against Vancouver and the return date against DC. He made his return for the second leg against the Caps and played a major role in Toronto surviving Julian De Guzman being sent off and winning the Cup.

It was that kind of season for Frings. Every time that he seemed to be close to fully fit he was able to make a difference in the middle of the park but it seemed like he spent more time carrying knocks than he did being fit. The shoulder injury that he suffered against DCU seemed to nag him for a long stretch of the season but it was his hip that would eventually lead to him missing the end of the season. He ended up requiring arthroscopic surgery on his hip which he is currently rehabbing from in hopes of being back in time for training camp and the start of next season.

Frings saved his two goals this season for games against TFC's biggest rivals. His first goal came against the Montreal Impact (6/27) when he managed to fire a powerful freekick pretty much right through the hands of Donovan Ricketts to open the scoring early in the second half of Toronto's 3-0 win. The shot had a whole lot of swerve on it and whipped just around the edge of the wall but it still took a poor effort from the Montreal keeper for that one to end up in the back of the net. His second goal of the year came in one of his best performance of 2012 as Frings scored Toronto's second goal of the game in their 3-2 win of the Whitecaps (7/11). This time his goal came after Joe Cannon had punched an Eric Avila cross clear and seemingly away from danger but it fell right at the feet of Frings who took a drive from about 25 yards out which found its way past all of the bodies and beat Cannon low and just inside the post.

Other than the two goals there were not a whole lot of highlights from Frings as he spent most of the season doing the dirty work in the middle of the park. It was probably a welcome return to position for the German after spending so much time reinforcing the back four last season and serving as a defender rather than helping to support the attack. He did spend some time in that role, mostly early in the season like the CCL games against LA, but for the most part he was in the middle of the park.

The struggle for Frings, and those who played central midfield along with him, was that they saw so little cover this season and with the ball often being dumped clear they ended up spending most of the game defending more often than not. It was a recipe for disaster to have Frings, Terry Dunfield, De Guzman, or even Aaron Maund chasing the ball all game long as that is just going to lead to fatigue and late game mistakes. It is something that TFC fans had to see over and over again this season but it is hard to put that blame for that on the midfielders.

The majority of the blame for that has to be with Paul Mariner who was the one encouraging the team to play that dump it out playing style and was the one who left Frings out their for 90 minutes as often as he could. The playing style is a debate we have already had a number of times but the issue of over using Frings is probably not one that you can really blame him for. When he did take Frings off, against the Revs, things only got worse for his team and they were basically overwhelmed by an opponent that was trying to get back into the game late. His options to replace him if he did take him off were already thin before JDG was traded and it was only worse after that deal.

It was Frings who provided the only calming influence in the middle of the park in many games this season. His passing was consistently more accurate than any of the other midfielders and he was also a proven ball winner. While Dunfield had a good season this year any time the two of them were in the middle together the stats show that Frings was the more influential of the pair.

The fact that Mariner was never willing to take Frings off if the team was in the game just further proves the immense value that he still has for this squad. A squad with more depth and talent would probably make Frings look better as he would be able to play more of his natural role and roam about the midfield but TFC does not have the luxury. Instead, even though they let him out of defense, they still rely on Frings to do much of the dirty work and to be the calming influence in the middle of the park. If Frings remains that essential to this teams success in 2013 you can bet that it will be another rough season. He is still probably the best player on the team but at 36 years old he is no longer able to carry a team like he might have been able to do in his prime.

Duncan: 4 After a fantastic second half to the 2011 season, the big question going in was whether Frings would still have it or if age would catch up to him. The first leg against LA put that fear to rest, he put in a dominant performance from his position in the middle of the defence, reading the game maginifcently and also taking time to set up Luis Silva's goal.

The he got injured against Seattle and that's when things went wrong really. TFC spiralled in the league and things were already in crisis mode at 0-5 when he came back. His return to the lineup wasn't immediately successful, within a minute he'd coughed up the ball just outside the area to allow Chicago to score. He actually played well in that game, moving further and further up the field in desperation as time ran out, and TFC actually took the lead in that game, and only lost that and the next one 3-2, progress of a sort. The next game, home to DC, he got injured again, Doneil Henry's first but not last victim of the season, and as he was subbed off and angrily walked off the pitch, threw the captain's armband to the floor behind him, a suitably dramatic moment to symbolise the despair of the time.

He came back from that injury before he looked fully fit, dedication to the cause not in question, (though dedication to Aron Winter can be questioned, with reports suggesting him and Koevermans said they'd quit unless Winter was fired.) and went on to play a big part in the voyageurs cup win and run of success mid season, even scoring goals against Montreal and Vancouver.

As the season wore on, he wasn't able to help arrest the slide, and eventually the nagging hip injury had to be addressed, but not before Paul Mariner threw him into that growing pile of bodies under his bus, blaming him for the late goals against Santos Laguna in what was his last game of the season.

All signs are that he'll be back next year, can he be effective with another year on the clock and a hip surgery to recover from. He's got the professionalism and desire to be in the best shape possible and you'd imagine he'd want to go out on a higher note than this season, but It would be risky to base the season around him playing a full part. Of course if he's not going to be playing a full 90 in most games, can his DP spot be justified, or somehow used better? He'll be one of the more interesting storylines to follow next year.

John: 4 Showing signs of age late in the season, but was still deadly.

Michael: 4 Are his best days behind him?

Kristin: 3 Still the most talented player to put on a TFC kit (and that includes DeRo). Injuries and perhaps dissatisfaction took a toll but I'd rather have him on the pitch than off. But please, stop taking free kicks.

The Yorkies: This high (8) on pedigree only. Didn't boss too many matches and desire to be here is questionable.

The Ghost Of TFC Future: Really marshalled the defence last season. Might get a spot on the "Wall of Honour" (dubious distinction), if he wants it. But, really lost a step over the course of the season. Can't believe how he got thrown under the bus by Mariner after the Santos Laguna home game. That said, it was a pretty poor challenge by Torsten. Wonder if he'll be back.

Casual Soccer Fan: Lost a step this year, but still sees the pitch better than anyone else around him.

DichioTFC: This may be a controversial pick, but co-Captain Torsten is my choice for second best TFC player of 2012. Of course it speaks volumes of the team that a player who missed half the season is the second best player, but then again, my pick for #1 is Danny Koevermans. Torsten demonstrated leadership and ability that many Toronto soccer fans have simply never seen before in the midfield position (sorry Julian De Guz). Torsten is the quintessential midfielder, he can tackle, he can earn fouls, he knows where everyone on the pitch is at all times, he dictates the play and, most of all, opposing players respect his ability. He exudes success and fans can anticipate something great with every touch. Frings isn't as quick as he once was, and playing on turf has done its predictable damage, but so rarely has a Toronto team witnessed such greatness in any sport. Getting Frings in was a fantastic piece of business for the club and all signs point to Torsten, ever the professional, finishing his contract - and possibly his legendary career - with Toronto in 2013. A player of this calibre may never become available to TFC again and the club should not squander the opportunity.

Shem: When he was fit, he slowed the team down. I think it's over for the old veteran.

Prizby: Hip surgery cut his season short; a hamstring injury cost him a month at the beginning of the season. Asked, probably, to do too much for the team, Frings was nearly flawless at his craft. Although slow, and getting stuck into tackles a tad too much, Frings elevated his game and the team's game when healthy. He scored on a thundering free kick at Montreal and another on a blast against Vancouver, he also played provider on several other goals while TFC showed some good form and won their few games of the season when Frings was in the line-up.

MCB: superb skills, but oh so slow; almost a defensive liability.

Sir Alphonso Applegate: Frings is pure class and makes players around him better. Injuries seem to be mounting though so hopefully there is one more good year left in him.

Ignirtoq: He's a midfielder, not a miracle worker!

Shel Soze: Great technical skill. Age has caught up

JC_Plante: Should never be allowed to take a dead ball again. Has lost that skill. But is still a presence.

Panos Kelamis: 35, soon to be 36 year-old DP, played well in moments, but cannot be counted on moving forward to play a full season

Number 4: Luis Silva

Number 6: Ashtone Morgan

Full Top 31 Countdown.