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The WTR Top 20: Ranking Toronto FC’s 2017 squad

A look back at the top performers from an exceptional year, starting with the honourable mentions.

MLS: MLS CUP-Seattle Sounders vs Toronto FC Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a few weeks since that memorable night at BMO Field. Has it sunk in yet? Now that we’ve had a few weeks to digest the dream that was the 2017 Toronto FC season, it’s time to look back on the squad that made it happen.

As we’ve done in past years, Waking the Red will rank the top 20 players from TFC’s past year. With very little agreement, WTR’s contributors have voted on who belongs on the prestigious list. The rankings are primarily based on 2017 performance, with some influence from overall skill and importance to the club’s future.

As with last year, more than 20 players took the field for TFC in 2017 (28, to be exact — up from 26 in 2016). So, we’ll start with some of the more notable names that didn’t make the cut.

Jason Hernandez

Nine appearances (five starts)

MLS: Portland Timbers at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Hernandez came in as a free agent near the start of the season to give TFC another option at a centre-back position where they were already deep. He turned out to be quite a useful addition, though.

His greatest contribution to the 2017 campaign was likely his TFC debut, in early May away to Seattle. With Drew Moor, Sebastian Giovinco, and Victor Vazquez all missing, Hernandez came in to anchor a motley crew of Reds en route to a gritty 1-0 victory.

At 34 years old, Hernandez is an aging MLS vet, with almost 300 games under his belt. He’s now a free agent, although GM Tim Bezbatchenko has suggested he’d like to bring the defender back. The value of defensive depth cannot be overstated; particularly with the potential health concerns of Nick Hagglund coming off mid-season knee troubles, as well as the 33-year-old Moor.

Hernandez has been round the block a few times in this league, and he’s worth keeping around if his salary demands are reasonable.

Clint Irwin

10 appearances (10 starts)

MLS: Toronto FC at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Personally, I had Irwin in my top 20, but the rest of the WTR staff felt differently. The second-string keeper wasn’t as much a part of the 2017 MLS Cup run as he was in 2016, playing in six league games (compared to 25 a year before). He was, of course, in net throughout the Canadian Championship, and he picked up four clean sheets throughout the season for the Reds.

At the beginning of the season, Irwin seemed the likely number one. After getting injured in the home opener against Sporting Kansas City, though, he watched from the sidelines as Alex Bono took his job. He made just three MLS appearances after that (although he was fantastic in that game in Seattle).

Irwin’s relegation to the backup role makes the off-season trade that got him back from Atlanta United a bit of a head-scratcher. That said, TFC’s front office likely didn’t know how well Bono was going to play in 2017.

Despite a difficult season for him personally, Irwin still seemed in good spirits during the MLS Cup festivities. At 28 years old, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him wanting a starting job elsewhere in the league. He definitely has the talent to be the number one for many teams, and he’s not ancient.

That said, there is value for TFC in keeping him (probably more than they’d get in a trade). With the CONCACAF Champions League, Canadian Championship, and a likely slew of mid-week games, Bono won’t be able to start every match. I don’t see Mark Pais as a viable backup keeper quite yet.

Ashtone Morgan

Six appearances (three starts)

MLS: Toronto FC at New York City FC Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

A fan- and locker room-favourite, Morgan was a good choice to lead the Viking clap at Nathan Phillips Square after TFC’s MLS Cup parade. He’s the longest-tenured Red, having been at the club since 2011 (even before they were The Worst Team in the World). Morgan has played 129 games for Toronto FC, including 17 in the CCL (which is a good indicator of how long he’s been here).

Morgan wasn’t much of a factor in TFC’s on-field success in 2017, demoted to third in the pecking order at left wingback behind Justin Morrow and the emergent Raheem Edwards. A good chunk of his playing time came during the Gold Cup, when both Morrow and Edwards were off with their national teams.

He filled in admirably when called upon, despite lacking the quality and pace of TFC’s usual wingbacks. Morgan provided a nice feel-good moment in late July when he scored his first-ever MLS goal, in Toronto’s 2-2 draw at New York City FC.

Morgan may not be the most skilled player on the roster, and it’s unlikely he’ll have much more playing time in 2018. Still, there’s something to be said for someone who’s stuck around through some seriously dire times.

Tsubasa Endoh

Six appearances (five starts)

MLS: Toronto FC at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In his second year at TFC, the ninth overall pick from 2016 took a step back, from some perspectives. He came 19th in these same rankings last season, and this year our vote has him 23rd. Still, it was only his second year as a professional. He scored three goals in 14 games on loan at TFC II.

As Oliver wrote this time last year, Endoh is useful to TFC if he can be flexible in his ability to play different positions. He’s well down the depth chart at his natural forward position, so when he does get into the lineup it’s likely to be in a wide-right spot (all his MLS starts this year were there).

Unfortunately, he was far from convincing as a winger or wingback. Endoh had a bright spot in June against New England, when he assisted a Drew Moor goal and made some dangerous passes from wide. On the other hand, he was very poor in TFC’s second game of the year, a 2-2 draw in Philadelphia — his first touch and crossing accuracy were both well below the standard of Steven Beitashour, whom he replaced.

I’m certainly not ready to pull the plug on Endoh’s time at TFC, but I do think things were very different when he first came aboard. He remains a very talented attacking player, with great pace and vision. There are a few things he could definitely stand to work on, namely his first touch. He also needs more time at the new position to adapt his skillset a little better, because there’s probably no place for him here as a striker or out-and-out winger.

If Endoh is to become a serviceable backup at wingback, his defensive work has to improve. Fortunately he’s quick enough to get back in defence, but it’s a role he clearly isn’t used to.

Endoh is a good player, but he’s stuck behind a lot of better players at TFC. He’s still quite young, but he does have to be better if he wants a regular spot on the first team. The club declined his contract option last month, so he’ll have to work hard in pre-season if he wants to be brought back.