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Toronto FC 2013 Top 36 Countdown: Number 1 - Steven Caldwell

Finally, someone who could lead and organise a defence. Quite possibly the best centre back TFC have ever had. Made in Scotland, from Girders. At number 1, it's Steven Caldwell.

Martin Bazyl Photography

Average Ranking: 2.10
Highest Ranking: 1
Lowest Ranking: 5

Duncan: 1 I was ambivalent at best when Caldwell's initial loan was announced. I was vaguely aware of him from his time in England, not all that impressed and it seemed like his career was on it's downslide, seemingly decisively on the Championship side of the Premiership/Championship divide his career straddled. Still, that's not bad, should still work out in MLS, though his age was also a bit of a concern, was this just one last stop before retirement for him, was coming to MLS proof that he was washed up and not good enough to make it over there any more? But it was just a loan to the end of June, so if it didn't work, no harm done really.

He made his first start at home against Columbus. Though it was only mid May, I was already tired and grumpy with TFC and the lineup showing Darren O'Dea at left back didn't improve my mood. So when with his first touch as a Red, Caldwell launched a pass out to the wing and directly into touch I gave an ironic cheer, sarcastic applause and a mocking 'Steven Caldwell Ladies and Gentleman!' This was surely the tough but clumsy, brawn but no brains stereotype that gives British centre backs a bad name. Very unfair to Caldwell and happily, wrong. I mean yes, he is a tough defender and he's never going to look all silky smooth out there, but he proved he's still got more than enough for MLS and was a big improvement in what was until he arrived a quite chaotic and vulnerable defence.

It had been 5 straight games that TFC had thrown away points with late goals prior to Caldwell's arrival, and they did concede late in Caldwell's 2nd and 3rd games, against New England Caldwell himself didn't look good, nutmegged by Saer Sene, whereas the collective meltdown that let Jack McInerney score is probably the angriest I've ever been at TFC.

But things were improving and the next game saw TFC take a one goal lead into the last few minutes and successfully brought it home. The one after that saw TFC go to Houston and get their first clean sheet of the season. That was the game that convinced me of Caldwell's abilities as he was dominant, as I detailed here for Sportsnet and it also prompted comparisons to Irn Bru on a East Side Stand Up podcast (stolen from a tweet by the yorkies).

His loan was up at the end of June but unlike John Bostock or Hogan Ephraim, this was a no brainer that he should be brought back and so he was, with a contract running to the end of the 2015 season, and there must be some serious capology wonk stuff happening behind the scenes as his salary was eventually revealed to be just under 80 or 90k depending on which number you go by. Great value and presumably a massive drop from what he was earning in England.

It wasn't all perfect from there on in obviously, but the defence was definitely improved and one of the more obvious signs of Caldwell's influence, and what may if it continues be his biggest contribution to TFC, was the way Doneil Henry's game got better, calmer and really cutting down on the bad decisions as the season progressed.

The defensive stuff doesn't translate well to highlight clips sadly, but he also showed up at the other end of the pitch as well, proving a threat from set pieces. He scored against Montreal, almost scored against Columbus, had a goal disallowed against New England. I'll embed that one for a couple of reasons, one, I love his reaction, stopping only briefly to yell something unpleasant at the ref before jogging back up the pitch to his position. Also, the commentary. They seem very confused as to why he's yelling at the ref, it takes Dunleavy and Serioux 18 seconds to realise the ref blew his whistle for a foul.

His fiery no nonsense approach certainly showed up a few times, he certainly got very good value for his yellow cards with some nasty challenges on De Rosario, Morales, Nguyen (extra post foul fiestiness with Jose Goncalves thrown in for good measure) whereas this one is more of a smart play, hauling down Dax McCarty who was clearly beating him for pace. His only red card of the season conversely had no malice to it, was more a case of bad timing, getting beaten to the ball after a poor pass to him from Kyle Bekker, then a very soft call from the ref who let a lot of other stuff go that day.

His suspension for that red card was the only minutes he missed of the season over the last 24 games after he arrived and perhaps the most impressive aspect of Caldwell's season is that all those minutes came after playing a full season in England, he essentially went from August 2012 to November 2013 without a break. Impressive stuff for a player in his 30s.

TFC's goals against went down after his arrival, from 15 goals allowed in 10 games to 32 in 24, from 1.5 to 1.33, but there was a bigger difference in that late goal thing, from 7 out of the first 10 games to 6 out of the last 24 games. He brought calm and character into the chaos, getting the defensive improvement that Darren O'Dea or Danny Califf were supposed to bring but couldn't.

Apparently, that's just what he does. As he said in this Kurt Larson article from the end of the season, he's used to coming into this type of situation.

"I knew the team was struggling but I've always moved to teams like this in my career. I think people appreciate what I do. I'm brought in to try and organize and improve a team. That's where I've been throughout my career. That doesn't scare me. Thankfully, I've been fortunate enough where I've been at clubs that have been struggling and through the help of me and others we've become successful."

Struggling? Check. Organised and improved? Check, to an extent. Can TFC 'become successful' in those 2 years he'll be here? Well Big Tim would obviously tell you yes and as important as whichever fancy DP's do end up here will be for scoring the goals, a successful team needs a good defence so Caldwell will be just as critical. After those 2 years, well hopefully by then he'll have taught Doneil Henry all he knows and he'll leave behind a competent and settled defence.

Dave: 1. Was a hard choice for the top spot on my list with a few players who made significant contributions to the club this season but it seems that Caldwell stands out at the top for me because he did what so many before him failed to do. He came in and brought quality and stability to the club's defense which was something that had been lacking for such a long time. Caldwell looks even better when compared to some of the CBs who were brought in before him. Add in the fact that he seems to have helped Henry and Boss improve their games which will help the club in the long term. That is why he was not only the best player this season but also the most important despite only arriving in the summer.

Armen: 4. Great Scot! Finally, a veteran central defender who can play. Probably Toronto's smartest acquistion of the year.

James: 4. The leader at the back this team has cried out for in each of its seven seasons - a good Scottish lad.

Kristin: 3. Oh Captain, our new captain! Steal of the year? Other than Bendik (who'll be getting a nice raise in the off season), who else provided more bang for the buck than Caldwell? One of the standout players for the team this season and easily took over marshalling the defense and wearing the armband once O'Dea departed. A difference maker in many games and vocal contributor on all parts of the pitch. Look forward to seeing him next season.

a_miller16: TFC's captain after O'Dea left. Played very well for an improved TFC defence. Gave the group structure, experience, leadership and good play. Represented the team well. He took less money to stay with TFC and he seems dedicated to the team

Bruce Harding. Wasn't sure about this signing, but proved to be great and really helped the defence. Great year for him.

Elusivecart: The General - really steadied the defense - greatly contributed to a reduction of last minute facepalming.

Ferantez He has been the only guy that has been able to settle the back line… I would rank him as the player that has had the most positive impact on TFC, ever. We have to consider that he is playing with 20 year olds beside him.

Henry for PM: team changed after his arrival, more composed and calm

Ignirtoq: #bangForYourBuck

JD: Easily my #1 choice. Brought stability and maturity not only to the back line, but to the whole team. He is an integral part to the team going forward. Plus, without him, we'd for sure be handing Vancouver the #1 pick in the 2014 superdraft rather than the #3 (always gotta find the silver linings!)

Jon Spratt: Looks like a dependable central defender in MLS and clearly a leader off the pitch.

Killinghurst: The defence changed drastically when he showed up and our young centrebacks responded much better to his leadership than to O'Dea's. A fantastic captain.

Mark_HSV: Most consistent player, few screw-ups and seems to be a good leader. That's enough to earn #1 on this team.

Michaelvee: Caldwell did some things that no other player we had this year could do well. Like lead, rein in Doneil Henry's mad tackling, score with his head, defend set pieces without crying like a baby. Hopefully he's here to stay. Great player on great money.

Mweezy: $90K plus the way he's played has to be one of the best deals in MLS. Just makes you wonder how much Mr. Al O'cation is covering.

Prizby: Caldwell might be the best defender TFC has seen in its history and without a doubt, the most consistent performer; inconsistent refereeing got him a red card and cost him a game this season, but other than that he's be a steady hand in the back and on a side note was the Red Patch Boys player of the year.

Schtevetown: Gets the top spot becuase the club has been looking for a solid centre back since pretty much day 1. The 80K contract is some kind of mistake, right?

Spence Snell: A good defender, good leader, and made Henry better throughout the year.

The Yorkies: One word: solid. Leader on the pitch and a seemingly good character as captain.

Tim: O'Dea who???

Tyler: Similar comment to that of Laba, games with vs. games without Caldwell show how integral he's been to stopping the late game collapses that plagued last season.

Yohan: Nelsen's best signing of the season. Caldwell is a commanding CB who can organize the defence, something we've never really had in Toronto. He leads by example and displays professionalism worthy of being team captain, and there is definitely a new level of dedication and determination from most player in the squad. He's 33, so who knows how many more years he'll be good for in MLS, but Caldwell has left his mark on this team.

Number 2: Matias Laba

Full Top 36 Countdown