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WTR Top 20, No. 18: Playoffs proved Benoit Cheyrou still has plenty to offer

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The Frenchman was not a starter all season but still managed to score the year’s most important goal and win an MVP award.

Luke Galati

Provided he can work out an agreeable salary with Toronto FC, Benoit Cheyrou has been clear about where he would like to be in 2017: back in Canada and aiming to go one better in the MLS playoffs.

“When you want to win, you have it in you,” the midfielder, who turns 36 in May, told L’Equipe recently. “Whether you're 20, 35 or 50… Even when I play dominoes with my kids, I want to win. I do not let them win.”

“This year, we already won the Canadian Championship,” he added. “Only the [MLS] title remains. It is with those that you are not forgotten at your old clubs.”

Cheyrou may not be a starter anymore but he has rarely expressed dissatisfaction with his role as a calm, experienced head off the bench for the Reds. The value of having such a player around has never been more pronounced for Toronto than in the playoffs, when Cheyrou - who has won pretty much everything in France and played in a few big games in his career - not only helped them to think clearly in the highest-pressure minutes of the season but also scored their most important goal, the one that sealed a place in the MLS Cup final at the expense of the Montreal Impact.

Luke Galati

In the summer, Cheyrou had been named the Most Valuable Player at the Canadian Championship as Toronto became national champions for the first time since 2012. There is often a lot of unsubstantiated, unquantifiable talk about the importance of older players who have been there and done it at the highest level, but Cheyrou has proven his ability beyond doubt to put his experience to good use.

Naturally, Cheyrou has started to think about his post-playing career. He already works with Jean-Luc Guer, a former French footballer turned podiatrist based in Cheyrou’s old home of Marseille, on a project to design football boots tailored to individual players to better prevent injuries. He is also in the process of gaining coaching qualifications in France.

It may be, however, that Toronto and Canada offers as much opportunity when it comes to the latter as his home country.

“In terms of media coverage, [soccer] lies behind baseball, basketball, American football and hockey,” he explained to L’Equipe. “But in terms of youth participation, this is the number one sport in the United States and Canada. There is the potential for very significant progress. Clubs are increasingly focused on [youth] training so that tomorrow's star players are Americans or Canadians. It can create vocations. There is a real training effort that may not have been there 10 years ago.”

For one more year - and perhaps longer, if Cheyrou does wish to increase his involvement behind the scenes - there would seem to be a fit - particularly given Toronto have already lost one of their more seasoned midfielders this winter in Will Johnson.

All there is to do, then, is work out a price. Cheyrou was one of the team’s higher earners on $259,333 until that figure dropped by $100,000 in the latest MLS Players Union release in September. That probably means he had performance-related clauses in his contract and took a salary hit as a result of the fact he played fewer games in 2016.

It’s irrelevant now, anyway, as the club chose not to pick up the option year in that deal and will instead look - by all accounts we’ve heard so far - to negotiate a new one for 2017. In an ideal world they’d probably like to pay around $100,000 for Cheyrou, putting him in the region of what Marky Delgado and Jay Chapman earned last season, but his profile will probably see him command a touch more than that.

With his ability to fill multiple midfield roles, there is certainly still a part for Cheyrou to play. “There is a real craze,” he said after scoring one of the most famous goals in TFC history. “It's a pleasure to be part of this adventure.”