Defensively, Toronto FC was a mess last season and at the centre of that mess was Damien Perquis. The veteran centre back was the club's most used central defender last year, becoming the leader of the backline by default, and as such drew plenty of criticism for his role in the club conceding a league-worst 58 goals. Many wanted him out of town.
But Perquis may well have been guilty by association if the 2016 season is any indicator. There is no doubt that last season was a very difficult adjustment period for Perquis. His expected centreback partner, Steven Caldwell, was forced to retire due to injury after playing just two games. After that, Perquis played beside a number of different partners. He also spent most of the year on the right side of central defence, next to Toronto FC's makeshift right-back solution du jour. All of this while he was adjusting to a league that isn't easy for newcomers.
When he finally found chemistry with a defensive partner, Justin Williams, Perquis got injured and was forced to miss the last few matches of the season. He wasn't in the lineup when the club was thrashed 3-0 by the Montreal Impact in its first ever playoff appearance.
Like Toronto FC, Perquis has spent much of this year atoning for the sins of last year. Like Toronto FC, he is quickly earning forgiveness. The 32-year-old defender was part of this week's MLS team of the week, the high point of what has been an excellent season so far.
While Perquis deserves plenty of credit for his improved performance, it is worth noting that the circumstances around him have changed. Whereas Toronto's backline changed rapidly, and without warning, last season, the starting back four has been the same for all but one game this season.
The acquisition of Drew Moor has changed a lot as well. The MLS veteran has taken command of the Toronto FC backline, and in the process taken plenty of pressure off of Perquis. This, in turn, has allowed Perquis free reign to do what he does best: distribute the ball while being a strong presence in the air at both ends.
Both of these attributes are incredibly important, especially the distribution, to the way that Toronto FC plays. Playing a diamond midfield, as Toronto has of late, means the club attacks mainly through the centre of the park. Having a player who can play that first pass forward from the back is essential. Also important is Perquis' ability to play the ball wide of Beitashour, adding width to the Toronto attack.
In this sense, Perquis is incredibly valuable to the Toronto backline. While the club does possess several centreback options, none of them have the technical ability that Perquis possesses. This is with the exception, perhaps, of Clement Simonin, who has not played all year and lacks other aspects of Perquis' game.
Perquis was at his best this past weekend in Toronto FC's home opener. Against an FC Dallas team that has ripped Toronto defenders apart in the past, Perquis consistently got the better of FC Dallas attackers. While the only real Dallas chance of the match came on Perquis' watch, it was his only slip up of the game.
So far the results have been obvious: Toronto has allowed just 7 goals in 9 games this season and as such are the best defensive team in the league. Perquis has contributed to that record as much as anyone and deserves plenty of credit for a bounce back start to the season that is starting to mend his reputation in Toronto.