Message to all current Reds: don’t get injured in the final of the Canadian Championship. It could signal the end of your time in a Toronto FC uniform.
For the second year in a row, a player who sacrificed his body for the sake of the Voyageurs Cup is no longer a member of TFC.
In 2016, it was Will Johnson. Now, in 2017, it’s Steven Beitashour.
As I’m sure we all recall, Johnson scored the Cup-clinching goal in the final minutes against the Vancouver Whitecaps. In so doing, he shattered his left leg and was gone for two months. While he was recuperating, Toronto brought in Armando Cooper to plug the hole. During the 2016 off-season, Johnson’s contract was not renewed and he was left looking for employment. He settled on Orlando City SC and had a mixed season, to say the least. Cooper remained.
On June 27th 2017, Beitashour absorbed a pancreas-shattering tackle at the hands of Montreal Impact defender Kyle Fisher. Any medical professional will attest to the tremendous amount of force required to damage the pancreas. Such a devastating injury is usually reserved for severe car accidents and knife attacks.
But, Beita finished the game. He patrolled the right side and earned three successful tackles, two interceptions, five recoveries, a pass completion rating of 74%, and a shiny gold medal. Not bad for a man who, by the end of the game, was just a few hours away from potential death.
While Beita recovered from surgery, Toronto brought in Nicolas Hasler to plug the hole. During the 2017 off-season, Beitashour’s contract was not renewed and he was left looking for employment. He settled on Los Angeles FC, and Hasler remains. Sound familiar?
Nothing against Hasler. He is a young, strong player who has shown a nose for goal and a nice ability to read the play. But, Toronto is a weaker team for having lost Beitashour.
Yes, Steven is not a flashy player. Yes, he did not score a goal in his two seasons with the Reds. Yes, he is over 30 years old. But, he did his job and he did it well. He did it so well that Greg Vanney saw the need to play him in every playoff game during his tenure with Toronto.
Remember, it was his perfect pass that found Benoit Cheyrou’s head in that legendary 2016 Eastern Conference Final. This year, he was the best defender on the pitch during the first leg of the Eastern Conference Final against Columbus Crew SC. In the final against the Seattle Sounders, he was selected as the starting right back. In that game, he played 46 passes to a stunning 91% success rate and didn’t allow the opposition a sniff on goal. These are just a few of his playoff highlights.
During the regular season, Beitashour played over 4,000 minutes for Toronto and collected six assists, five of them coming in 2017. Again, he played well defensively. Not being the fastest player on the pitch, he relied on his football IQ to be in the right place at the right time. More often than not he was in the right place – sometimes covering for his defense partners in the process.
Offensively, he played the right flank well enough to create space for his teammates. When he was on his game, he often played the set-up role to key passes that resulted in chances – providing a threat down the right side that stretched the opposition. Steady. Consistent. Effective.
Whether Toronto played a 3-5-2 or a 4-4-2, Beitashour had a place in the formation. He gave Toronto depth – depth that the team has now lost on that side of the field.
In a 3-5-2, now there is only one viable option at right wingback: Hasler. Hasler is still unproven. He has a mere 12 MLS appearances to his name. That doesn’t mean that he can’t do the job. It just means that he is unproven. But, even if Hasler can do the job consistently, what happens if he gets injured? Who do the Reds have in reserve? Oyvind Alseth? Tsubasa Endoh?
In a 4-4-2, Beita often started at right back. Who could fill in there? Eriq Zavaleta? Now who plays at right-back if Zavaleta gets injured? Nick Hagglund could do it. But what if Drew Moor goes down and Hagglund is needed in central defense? Don’t roll your eyes. Remember the rash of injuries that befell TFC’s rearguard in 2017? With so many games, in such quick succession, it could happen again in 2018.
There is talk that Beitashour’s salary was a drain against the cap and that his departure has freed up space to go after a player of higher quality. That is a poor argument. Toronto is not relying on the removal of Beita’s $264K salary to go after a strong player. They are relying on the $4 million in TAM that they are sitting on.
Furthermore, they have yet to land that “better” player. Until they do, they are very vulnerable on the right side. Even if they do land another player, they would still have been stronger with Beitashour as an option in reserve. This is especially true when looking at the grueling schedule (including travel) that they will face over the course of this season.
There are rumours that TFC will replace Beitashour with former Dutch international Gregory van der Wiel. That would definitely be a nice addition. But at what cost? Van der Wiel is similar to Beita in terms of age. His offensive stats, although arguably against stronger opposition, are similar to Beitashour’s. He does have Champions League, World Cup and European Championship experience, but none of that really helped him adjust to playing in Turkey or Italy. He could be a high-priced gamble.
Beitashour is more of a sure thing in MLS – a less expensive sure thing to boot. If Beita’s services were retained, the resources being spent on acquiring a van der Wiel-type player could have been spent elsewhere (e.g. an attacking midfielder with a left foot or a holding midfielder to give Michael Bradley a break on occasion).
Good luck to Steven in LA. He is closer to home, and will now be playing with the likes of Laurent Ciman, Benny Feilhaber, Latif Blessing, Marco Urena, Carlos Vela and, if one of my workmate’s suspicions are correct, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez. Don’t think for a moment that the purveyor of such talent – Bob Bradley – didn’t ask his son for an opinion on Steven Beitashour. Michael’s review must have been stellar. Otherwise, Beita would not be donning the black and gold in 2018. That should be good enough for anyone to realize that Toronto’s loss is LAFC’s gain.