There was an article by Neil Davidson for CP that was published in a variety of places last Friday (read it here at the globe and mail) based on an interview with Danny Califf. It's worth reading, covering a variety of subjects, and the way he's trying to back off his 'please don't send me to Toronto' remarks continues to be worth a chuckle.
The main bit that stuck out to me was early on in the interview talking about catchphrases that have shaped how he plays.
The first is "Be a pessimist." For a defender like Califf, that means reacting to the opponent and trying to anticipate what might go wrong, so he can have his teammate's back.
I'm a cynic and pessimist by nature so this instantly endeared him to me, finally here was a motivational slogan I could get behind. I also thought, hey there's plenty of things that go wrong in Toronto FC's defence, so this seems like a good match, he's just what we need.
He isn't the slowest player on the field, but he won't catch up to any of the faster players in the league and will get drawn out of position if the fullback on his side is poor at position. He sometimes overplays his role because he wants to make sure the defense works despite problems with fellow defenders.
And all of a sudden the image in my head is Richard Eckersley in New York, desperately running to Thierry Henry and thus leaving Kenny Cooper wide open to score. Twice.
Now I'll trust Califf's centre back brain a lot more than Eckersley's, but frankly, all this worries me and leads me to think that unless TFC can hit a lot of home runs in trades or drafts between now and the start of the season and radically improve who'll be alongside him and in front of him, we're going to make Califf look really bad. As just mentioned, Eckersley's often all over the place defensively, and if he's at right back, his runs forward are great, but not really all that helpful defensively. Ashtone Morgan isn't as noticeably bad, but he still has plenty to learn and is equally committed to going forward. Darren O'Dea's not the fastest so may not be the best compliment to the equally un-pacy Califf, and the midfield hasn't really been good at protecting the middle or coming back to help the full backs out. There are many ways it can all go wrong.
Now Califf has obviously had a lot of success in his career, and the firefighter/last line of defence role can be a valuable one in the right circumstances. With a solid defence that knows it's job individually and as a unit, there's still going to be times where things go wrong, or simply the opposition does something right and chances are created. It's the nature of the game and a defender who can anticipate when it's going to happen and help his teammates out is very useful.
When it's the defence itself that's causing the problems and the breakdowns, well that's when you get what we've seen way too many times, players trying to do too much to compensate and cover, and just making things worse and more chaotic.
Last year Paul Mariner talked about needing a bossman at the back, and he's right, that's exactly what TFC still need, someone who can organize things and cut down on the mistakes of others, grab them by the scruff of the neck and turn them into a competent unit. Darren O'Dea didn't really have a great impact in that respect last year, hopefully Califf's experience added to O'Dea will tilt the balance of competence/chaos back in competence's favour to make that organizing job easier. Another quote from that article suggests that organizing role is another one that Califf can bring.
As a centre back, organizing comes with the territory, Califf says.
"So I feel like it's my job - both on and off the field - to put people in the right places and try and make the guys around you better," he explained. "That's something I take very seriously on the field, but off the field as well. But also I think it has to come within character too."
Hopefully that's the main thing we'll get from Califf, a bossman could be very useful. If what we end up getting is the pessimist, well not to be pessimistic, but I really can't see that one working out well.