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How Toronto FC replace retired Cheyrou will define offseason

The classy Frenchman was a special player

Montreal Impact v Toronto FC - Eastern Conference Finals - Leg 2 Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

When Benoit Cheyrou was subbed on in the final minute of the MLS Cup final it was pretty clear that it would be the last action of his career. Sure enough, Toronto FC confirmed yesterday that the 36-year-old Frenchman is hanging up his boots and will join their academy coaching staff.

Cheyrou’s career spanned 19 years, the final three of which were spent in Toronto. During that time he scored one of the biggest goals in club history, an extra time header against the Montreal Impact to send Toronto FC to their first ever MLS Cup final.

He wasn’t nearly as big a piece on the field this season, in fact he only played six minutes after July. But his departure also leaves a big hole in Toronto FC’s depth, and it is crucial they fill it this offseason.

The big reason Cheyrou barely saw the pitch after mid-summer was the player he was behind in the lineup: Michael Bradley. Bradley did not miss a single minute of action after July.

This was good news for Toronto FC, because Bradley was also the most irreplaceable player on the team. Cheyrou was the only other player Toronto had who could similarly shield the backline while providing a link to move the ball up field.

Toronto will hope Bradley can put on a similar iron man streak in 2018, but it is crucial that they have a plan B in case he can’t. The club is going to have plenty of fixture congestion this year, not to mention feeling the effects of the short off-season due to CONCACAF Champions League and their MLS Cup final win.

Greg Vanney is also likely to use a four-man midfield more often this season given its success on the biggest stage. With Cheyrou and Armando Cooper (for now) on the way out, the central midfield could use some more hands on deck.

Ideally, Toronto would be able to acquire an experience midfielder who can play effectively both in the place of and alongside Bradley. That is the top priority during an offseason where Toronto FC will try to maintain the gap between them and competition who are sure to make some big transfer splashes.

The club has the resources to make this signing happen, with up to $4 million additional targeted allocation money (TAM) at TFC’s discretion in 2018. That’s more than enough to replace what Benoit Cheyrou provided on the field, while addressing needs elsewhere on the team.

What Toronto FC will struggle to do is replace Cheyrou off it. There is no shortage of leadership in the TFC locker room, but the outpouring of respect yesterday from teammates showed just how much he meant to this squad.

If he can replicate the influence he had behind the scenes in shaping Toronto FC into a championship caliber team, then he will certainly be a big addition to the academy. The next generation of reds couldn’t have a better mentor.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

While so many similar signings have gone poorly, both in Toronto and league-wide, Cheyrou turned out to be a perfect veteran European addition for the club. He brought experience and quality, but he didn’t act like that made him better than anyone else.

What he did was use it to make the players around him better. What fans didn’t often hear about was the importance Cheyrou had imparting his wisdom and pushing players during training sessions, even when he wasn’t getting minutes with the first team.

He spent the final year of his time at Toronto FC on the league minimum of $65,004. That’s more than enough proof that this wasn’t a money grab for him, but a project that he was truly invested in and for which he was ready to make sacrifices.

Toronto FC will certainly be paying his replacement more than that, and the player they get will hopefully be more useful on gamedays than Cheyrou was this season. But there is no doubt that in order to become a Champion, Toronto needed a player like Cheyrou. He leaves some big boots to fill.