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Red Bulletin: With Moor, Toronto FC can leave New York unscathed

Games like the one on Sunday are no longer a frightening prospect for the Reds.

MLS: Toronto FC at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has changed since Drew Moor began his Major League Soccer career.

When Moor made his first appearance as a draft pick of FC Dallas in 2005, Cristiano Ronaldo was a gifted but unpolished diamond at Manchester United and Lionel Messi’s senior career was just getting started.

On this side of the Atlantic, Clint Dempsey was the reigning MLS Rookie of the Year and Amado Guevara - later of Toronto FC - the MVP.

That was two years before David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles and changed the face of North American soccer, sparking the arrival of a host of stars in the twilight of their careers and even a few in their prime.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The standard of play in MLS has improved dramatically over the 11 years since Moor’s debut but the Texas-born centre-back, now 32, has simply become better and better for it. He made 123 league appearances for Dallas and another 181 for Colorado, where he won the MLS Cup in 2010, before joining Toronto last winter as a free agent after being named an All Star for the first time. To put those numbers into context, Moor has already made more appearances for two different clubs than any player has for Toronto in their soon-to-be-10-season history in MLS.

In his first season north of the border, only seven players league-wide played more minutes than the dependable Moor, who still holds the MLS record for consecutive games played by an outfield player. The effect he has had has been quite astonishing; having conceded 58 goals in 2015 for the worst defensive record in MLS, Toronto led the Eastern Conference by conceding just 39 this season.

“He’s been steadfast and present in just about every game of ours and he does a nice job in organizing and controlling things in our backline,” Greg Vanney said in October.

“I think he’s been extremely solid and that’s the main thing about being a centre-back, is to be solid every single day, do your job and, at the highest level, be able to help and communicate and work with the guys around you, and I think Drew is as good at that as anybody.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

“You know you can count on him every single day. Whether it’s training or games, you can count Drew in. If it’s three games in a week, you can count Drew in. He’s very efficient, he’s smart, he’s professional and he’s always there for the team in whatever capacity.”

Every defender benefits from playing as part of a settled unit, but Moor has been this model of reliability despite plenty of changes around him. He has had four different centre-back partners this season and is currently playing with two of them, Nick Hagglund and Eriq Zavaleta, in a back three. It has helped that Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow have taken the bulk of the minutes at full-back and Michael Bradley has done the same in the deepest midfield position, but Moor and the rest of the defence also had to adapt to a new goalkeeper, Alex Bono, when Clint Irwin suffered an injury.

Through it all, Moor has been a calming influence and second captain of sorts to Bradley. Toronto’s 2-0 lead over New York City FC at the halfway point of the Eastern Conference semi-final looks a comfortable one, but if they do not score the first goal in the second leg at Yankee Stadium on Sunday they will inevitably have to survive a period of pressure. Unlike in last season’s catastrophe in Montreal, they now look a team capable of doing that - largely thanks to Moor’s presence.

In addition to the increase in quality and, subsequently, confidence in the defensive side of Toronto’s game, Vanney also knows that he now possesses three leaders in Bradley, Moor and Irwin capable of managing the game as it happens. As a result, instead of setting up to shut up shop from the start, Vanney can offer his attacking players some freedom against New York in the knowledge his veterans can rein them in if necessary.

MLS: Conference Semifinals-New York City at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

“I would imagine [New York are] going to try to come out and certainly try to get an early goal and try to set that tone,” Moor said earlier this week. “We have to be ready for anything, which I think this team is - that’s how we prepare.

“They score a lot of goals at home. They concede some goals at home as well. Hopefully in our moments when we can attack and we can break out, we make those quality moments and punish them when we can. We have to expect the kitchen sink from the opening whistle and we’ll be ready for it.”

Moor is as ready as they come.

Recommended reading

Kurt Larson of the Sun has a good piece on Armando Cooper, who Jozy Altidore hopes sticks around in 2017.

John Molinaro of Sportsnet has a good interview with Terry Dunfield on Toronto FC’s transformation over the past few years.