I know it might be a little weird to start our top 20 with a player who just retired, but Benoit Cheyrou deserves better than an honourable mention. He called it quits in December after a 19-year career, including 55 appearances for Toronto FC (and more than 300 for Marseille).
It was kind of surprising when he signed a new contract for 2017; he was 35 at the time, and wouldn’t have been blamed for stopping then. It seems TFC convinced him to come back for one more crack at it, assuring him he’d have an academy coaching job lined up. He ended up playing in 16 games in his last season, scoring twice.
In 2017, Cheyrou was essentially TFC’s backup Michael Bradley. Whenever the skipper was absent for national team duties, Cheyrou ensured there was still a bald defensive midfielder in the lineup. He was generally pretty reliable there, in a role where he sat back quite a bit and played passes between the back three and the wingbacks.
Even at his age, Cheyrou was always a player Greg Vanney seemed comfortable putting into a game to close things out. As one of the safer defensive options off the bench, the Frenchman often replaced one of the forwards or attacking midfielders when TFC needed to switch to an all-out bunkering formation.
It may not mean much because they hardly lost at all in 2017, but only one of Cheyrou’s 2017 MLS appearances was a loss (TFC’s 2-1 defeat at Columbus). As well, the Reds only conceded one goal all year when Cheyrou came on as a substitute, and that was in a 3-1 win over the Chicago Fire when things were already settled. That says a lot about his effectiveness as a stabilizing presence in tense moments. Cheyrou certainly helped preserve three points on several occasions.
As important as he was on the pitch, Cheyrou was doubly so off of it. As someone who’s won trophies at a big European club, and who was named to the Ligue 1 team of the year three times, his experience was valuable to his young teammates. Cheyrou was a pretty frequent character on Tsubasa Endoh’s Instagram, having struck up a strong friendship with the youngster.
As goodwill gestures go, Vanney using his last substitution on Cheyrou late in the MLS Cup Final (before Victor Vazquez’s goal, no less) was a gutsy one. Of course, standing in the crowd at the time I didn’t think twice about it, assuming it was a legitimate tactical sub, which it was on some level. Cheyrou probably would’ve been perfectly capable had the game gone into extra time.
It wasn’t until later that I realized what a sign of respect it was to put the retiring player out there to close out a cup final. Vanney certainly did right by a player who’s done a lot for this club.
Of course, the sight of Cheyrou coming on in such a nervous situation beyond 90 minutes conjured up some very good memories. Let’s relive his greatest moment at Toronto FC:
By the way, that’s the top result when you Google “Benoit Cheyrou goal.” Those absolute heroics against Montreal will not be forgotten in Toronto for a very long time.
Cheyrou may well have much more to give in Toronto as a coach. This is purely conjecture, but he does seem like the type to be a strong presence around the club’s young prospects. As was the case with Danny Dichio and Terry Dunfield, among others, TFC always seem keen to hang onto people who really understood the club as players.