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The WTR Top 20, No. 17: Despite struggles, Armando Cooper still valuable to Toronto FC

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The Panama international brings something a little different.

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

Armando Cooper can be an incredibly frustrating player to watch. The Toronto FC midfielder has a talent for drifting through opposing defenders with ease. Only, he always seems to try one trick too many.

The numbers would seem to back this up, no Toronto FC player had more dribbles per match in 2017 than Cooper’s 1.4. However, the Panamanian international was also among the club’s most commonly dispossessed players according to WhoScored.

As a result, Cooper has become one of the most-maligned players on Toronto FC’s roster. He has taken a big plunge in our rankings, falling from number six last season all the way to 17 out of 20 this year.

Yet Toronto FC seem keen to bring the 30-year-old Panama international back into the fold for next season. That’s because, despite a turbulent offseason, he is still an important depth player for the club and if they can keep him around at a reasonable rate it’s worth doing.

Cooper’s 2017 season got off to a rough start and he had a difficult time recovering. It is worth noting that he was dealing with the tragic death of a friend, something that shouldn’t be discounted.

More than anything, however, Cooper struggled to adapt to a new Toronto FC system that emphasized moving the ball quickly up field. Cooper, a dribbler by trade, would often linger on the ball for too long.

MLS: Eastern Conference Championship-Columbus Crew at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

That’s one of the reasons why a player with a simpler game like Marky Delgado was able to displace him in the starting lineup early in the season. Delgado’s ability to connect Michael Bradley and Victor Vazquez with simple passes made him invaluable.

Ultimately, Cooper appeared in 19 matches for Toronto FC in 2017, starting 10 of them. He had a pair of assists.

But the redemption story in Cooper’s season came in the MLS Cup playoffs, where he demonstrated how he can still be valuable to this club. A late game sub, Cooper showed a penchant for helping Toronto FC maintain leads in pressure-packed situations.

Cooper’s ability on the ball makes him effective at running down the clock and forcing opposing players to expend energy. Behind Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, he is also the third most-fouled player on the team, which is also useful late in games.

While Cooper can get caught holding onto the ball for too long, he does pass the ball fairly well. He ranked fifth on the team this past season in terms of pass success percentage. He also averaged 0.6 key passes per match, seventh among Toronto players who played more than 200 minutes.

Soccer: 2016 Copa America Centenario-Panama at Bolivia Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

These attributes combine to make Cooper unique among Toronto’s midfielders. Whether it be as an option off the bench or as a starter in certain situations, having a player with a different skill set is always valuable.

Cooper also has one more feather in his cap, his CONCACAF experience. He is one of the few players on Toronto FC’s roster with CONCACAF Champions League experience dating back to his time at Arabe Unido. He also helped Panama qualify for the World Cup for the first ever.

His game is well suited for Champions League action, especially the away legs where other members of the squad might struggle.

If Cooper does come back, however, it will likely have to be at a discount. He was making $202,333 in guaranteed compensation this past year. That’s probably too much for the role he will play, especially with how close TFC is to the cap ceiling.

With a chance to play at the World Cup within touching distance, Cooper will be motivated for 2018. If Toronto FC choose to bring him back, he still has plenty left to give.