It came as some surprise, albeit a muted one, when it was announced that Toronto FC had parted ways with Damien Perquis a few weeks ago.
Perquis was occasionally erratic, but had shown a lot of growth from his first season to the next, prompting at least one pundit – Hi! – to pick Perquis as the turnaround, sleeper pick to have an impactful season in 2016.
Surrounded by an all-together more solid defense, partnered by Drew Moor in the middle, Perquis' aggression looked set to be perfectly balanced by Moor's organizational, cerebral approach. One stepping in to confront the ball-carrier, the other making sure any opening gaps were quickly monitored and closed.
And it served well through most of the first two months of the season.
But then something changed, and his peculiar absence from the starting eleven, although admirably replaced by Eriq Zavaleta, started to draw suspicion. At first, a minor injury seemed to be the culprit, then rest and rotation looked the decision, but it soon became obvious there were other factors at work.
And his time came to a premature end on July 12 when it was mutually agreed to terminate his contract, freeing up roster and cap space for the club and allowing the player to pursue other opportunities. Perquis has already left Toronto in search of his next destination – officially landing with Nottingham Forest on Friday morning.
In many ways, his departure reflects the realities of the MLS system.
In a league governed by a salary cap, money must be committed wisely, a club simply cannot afford to have $300 000+ sitting on the bench week after week. It handicaps the side, while not entirely wasted, it is not a sustainable situation to have a player on Perquis' wages not in the starting lineup.
In a league with a tight roster limitation, in order to address needs, space must be made. To bring players in, others will be forced to leave. Though the acquisition of Tosaint Ricketts was likely in the works prior to Perquis' departure, the additional senior roster spot and international spot – one of which was subsequently dealt to Montreal – were surely beneficial as the club looks to add during the transfer window.
Though few will ultimately regret that Perquis is no longer with the club, it is worthwhile to remember that when it comes to building a side, these factors and many more can be an impediment to speed and ease.
The documentation of players, especially those from Europe, requiring time in order to adjust to MLS – Sebastian Giovinco being the exception that proves the rule, although perhaps his recent dry spell is a delayed immunological reaction (the system extracting that which it thinks it is owed) – is well accepted.
Perhaps one could argue that Robbie Keane avoided such a fate, his scoring record is phenomenal, though his injury one, and the requisite down-time, points to struggles other than in the goals department.
But if one follows the trajectories of both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, not to mention Antonio Nocerino, who is still in the midst of his adjustment, the rule holds.
Can a club who invests such a significant portion of its meagre cap wait for the player to come good?
Perquis looked to have done so, but still the clock had ticked down. Choices had to be made, and TFC may be better for it.
Building a roster, nay a club, is about thinking both in the short-term and long, but life has a way of evading such prescriptions. How many draft picks or academy graduates have had the clock run out on them because of roster requirements, rather than talent? How many signings would have come good if only time allowed it?
The only remedy would be to allow larger rosters and more spacious caps; they will come one day, but still those are pressures that until recently did not exist in the wider world of football. It's one of those elements that makes MLS largely unique, but is also a limitation to the rate at which growth can be achieved.
For all his eccentricity, Perquis was often a joy to watch, getting stuck in and barking at opponents, teammates, and media alike.
His no-nonsense defending and over-the-top reactions to the slightest of slights provided entertainment, and though his on- and off-field demeanour was often criticized, there was another side to the man as well.
A few weeks ago, in the midst of his extended absence from the starting lineup, there was a moment up at training that bears sharing.
There was a young man who had been helping out at the KIA Training Ground, assisting the ground staff in their duties and generally soaking in the atmosphere of such a place.
It was his last day and he was sad to be leaving.
All the players took a moment to say goodbye, say thanks, and that he would be missed; some even joking that they wished he were staying and the regular staff member was the one who would not be back.
But Damien went a step further.
Having said his part, Perquis reemerged from the ground with a shirt in hand, taking that extra moment to deliver a gift to the youngster, so as to ensure that he would have a token of remembrance from this special experience.
Say what one will about his bristling combativeness, but that was the efforts of a man much more well-rounded and generous than caricature would have one believe.
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Also, the folks over at The Vocal Minority, half of whom are former WTR staffers, had me on the show this past week – give it a listen for a spirited seven-point defense of the result in San Jose.