When media gathered at the KIA Training Grounds after the season to pick the brains of Toronto FC players on what went wrong one final time, Steven Caldwell was unwilling to consider injuries a major factor. He downplayed their importance as to the overall chemistry of the team, citing other reasons as to why the club was unable to reach their minimum goal: making the playoffs.
In truth, whether cited as a factor or not, injuries did play a massive role in Toronto's collapse last season. The majority of the club's important players struggled with injuries and it showed on the field. Caldwell was unable to escape the injury plague, and there is an argument to be made that his was the most detrimental injury of all.
When he went down after a thrilling 4-2 victory over the Houston Dynamo, the club was 7-5-3 and looked sure to make the playoffs. While he was down with injury between games on July 16 and September 13, returning only for a 2-2 draw with Chicago on August 23, the club went a dismal 2-6-3. That brought them to 9-11-6, and out of the playoff spot.
Caldwell isn't the heart of Toronto FC, or at least he isn't perceived to be after losing his captaincy to Michael Bradley. He does, however, represent a crucial part of the club's spine that is irreplaceable within the current player pool. He is among, if not the best, defenders the club has ever had and demonstrated that again when healthy last season.
2014, his second season with the club, saw him start 21 games, meaning he now has 44 overall with the club. On the current roster only Ashtone Morgan, Jonathan Osorio and Joe Bendik have played more matches. He had 3 cautions and a single sending off during the season.
He had no goals or assists, as his offensive game was affected by the role that he was forced to play in a young Toronto backline. It's not like Caldwell has ever been a major offensive threat, but last year beside Darren O'Dea he was able to at least get forward on occasion and was dangerous in the air. This year he only managed 5 attempts on net, none of them on target.
The aforementioned "role" that Caldwell was forced to play last season was anchoring the club's pair of inexperienced centrebacks: whether it was Doneil Henry or Nick Hagglund in the lineup his role was the same. While both proved themselves to be talented players, a fact that earned the former a spot in the English Premier League and the latter a place in rookie of the year discussions, both are raw talents that needed consistent babysitting.
In theory, Caldwell will have to a lot less teaching this year. For starters, as aforementioned his prized student Henry is now playing with West Ham. Nick Hagglund is a year older and now has MLS experience. Most importantly, however, is the addition of Damien Perquis. Sure, Caldwell will technically be the Polish international's anchor, but in theory his boat won't be nearly as unpredictable.
While that will be his role on the field, there has been a lot of discussion as of late about how Caldwell will fit in an ever shifting Toronto FC dressing room. His reaction to being stripped of the captaincy has created a minor controversy around the club, especially with how it played out.
Bradley may have said it best in his first address as a captain, however, stating that he doesn't think Caldwell's role or leadership in the dressing room will change at all. Not only is he one of the best defenders to ever play for the club, he is also one of the best professionals that the team has ever brought into the locker room.
Without an armband, and with Perquis beside him and Benoit Cheyrou, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore in front of him, Caldwell isn't going to be the talking point that he once was with this club. In the shadows, however, he will continue to shape the core of this club and play a significant role in moving it in the right direction.