We are close to the one-third mark of the 2018 MLS season. No need to delve into what the Reds need to do over their remaining 24 games, but a three-letter word beginning with “w” and ending with “n” should be enough of a hint.
That’s the plight of our current Reds.
But what about the jettisoned Reds of the season past? Hopefully, we all still remember players like Brandon Aubrey, Oyvind Alseth, Armando Cooper, Raheem Edwards and Steven Beitashour.
No doubt these players are still keeping tabs on their ex-teammates. It’s hard not to. Toronto FC coverage is everywhere. Some might even want to flash their ‘lexicon’ and say that it is “ubiquitous” (word-of-the-day toilet paper).
Time to take a few moments to return the favour. Let’s check in on a few of the players who played a part in TFC’s treble-winning season, five months on.
While the then 22-year-old did not see a minute of first-team action in 2017, he is included here because he was Toronto’s first round draft pick to start the season. Selected 21st overall, from the University of Notre Dame, he was looked upon as the club’s central defender of the future. This year, however, he’s back in the USL.
Playing for Bethlehem Steel FC (Philadelphia Union’s affiliate), Aubrey has started nine of the team’s first 10 matches. He leads his squad in blocks (8) and aerial duals won (21). But, just like when he was with TFC II, his passing accuracy is woeful: 72% on 365 pass attempts. Surprisingly, he is currently leading his team in both yellow and red cards — his lone red coming against Nashville when he was caught out of position and had to commit a foul to deny a goal scoring opportunity (Nashville converted the penalty).
With 725 minutes already under his belt, Aubrey is on-track to match, or surpass, the 1,781 minutes that he played last year. As far as progressing to MLS, he is still, very much, a work in progress — a sentiment shared by Bethlehem Steel head coach Brendan Burke:
“With his age, we believe that he deserves a good look and we’re happy to be the club that gives him that look. We expect him to anchor our defense because we’re a very young team and could get even younger this season so it’s very valuable to us to have young players that already have experience in the USL.”
A 2017 draft pick brought in to provide support on the right side while Steven Beitashour was recovering from a ruptured pancreas, Oyvind Alseth started four games for the Reds during 2017. He showed promise, but went down to injury 15 minutes into the match against New York City FC on July 30. That ended Alseth’s MLS tenure, and the Norwegian spent the rest of the year with TFC II. The addition of Gregory van der Wiel and Auro Jr., along with the retention of Nicolas Hasler’s services, signaled the end of Alseth’s time with the big club.
Oyvind, however, is still plying his football trade. He currently plays for third-place Ranheim in Norway’s top league, the Eliteserien. Playing in front of roughly 3,000 spectators, the atmosphere is not the same as a mid-summer match at BMO Field, but it is a professional gig for a young man who had all but given up playing prior to being signed by the Reds.
A former teammate of Alex Bono’s at Syracuse, Alseth is goalless through nine appearances this season. As a defender/wingback, Oyvind usually enters the game as a late substitute (he has only started twice this year). He earned his first professional assist in a recent game against mid-table squad Kristiansund.
It is probably safe to say that Alseth’s chances of returning to MLS are slim. But, football comes in many guises. If he can find success in his native land, then all the more credit to him for sticking with his dream. In large part, he can thank Toronto FC’s growing worldwide reputation for helping him to achieve that.
Since leaving Toronto FC, Cooper has made three appearances, including one start, for Universidad de Chile. The attacking midfielder is yet to record a goal or an assist through the club’s first 14 games this year.
However, as we know, the pinnacle of Cooper’s career might be yet to come. In less than a month, Armando may be part of his native Panama’s World Cup team. His likelihood of starting is close to zero though, especially given his lack of competitive club minutes. Barring injuries, Panama’s midfield is already set with Gabriel Gomez, Anibal Godoy, Alberto Quintero and Edgar Barcenas expected to lineup against Belgium on June 18.
At this stage, however, starting for Panama is the least of Cooper’s worries. Although named to the 35-man provisional roster, Cooper may have to rely on his reputation to simply make the final 23-man squad — his recent form has been that poor. If he does make it to Russia then, much like Alseth, Cooper should look at his stint with TFC as being the springboard to his success.
As alluded to, Cooper’s continued employment with Universidad de Chile is also up for debate, with most sources suggesting that his current one-year contract will not be renewed at season’s end.
Nevertheless, any chance to play in the World Cup is an incredible opportunity and, if Armando can contribute to a strong performance by Panama, then his stock will rise.
We all know where Raheem ended up. As much as a surprise as that was, Edwards’ lack of playing time to start the year has been even more surprising. Although he started in Montreal’s first match of the season against Vancouver, Raheem’s name did not see the starting lineup again until May 5.
Raheem has scored twice in his limited playing time so far this year. That’s double his goal output for all of last season. Additionally, his five shots on target in just seven appearances is one better than last year’s shot total after 21 appearances.
On the down side, Raheem has yet to record an assist for the Impact. That is not a reflection of his talent. Rather, it is a function of where he is playing. Coach Remi Garde usually has Edwards on the right side as a left-foot shot. In this role, Raheem does not carry the ball as much as he did in Toronto. Rather than setting up the play, he is now waiting to volley a cross from Ignacio Piatti, or handle a pass in the box from Saphir Taider.
Despite adapting to a new city, a new team, a new system, and a new position, Remi Garde was clearly not happy with Edwards’ effort. In a recent article from the Canadian Press, courtesy of Sportsnet, Garde was quoted as saying, “(Raheem) has come through a difficult period that was not related to football (and) I hope we’ll rediscover a Raheem who is totally invested in the Impact group. The group needs him. Everyone here likes him a lot, but I think he is someone who needs to understand that professional football is a job that carries responsibilities.”
Refusing Edwards the opportunity to play against his former team on March 17 at Olympic Stadium was also an unwanted surprise. Speculation at the time was that Remi Garde was annoyed at Raheem for conceding a penalty late in the previous game against Columbus. If true, not only was Raheem’s benching a terrible message to send, but it was also incorrect. If Garde had taken the time to review the play more closely, he would have seen that Ken Krolicki was actually the guilty party.
However, recent events may indicate that things have turned around for Raheem. Since May 5, he has started all four of Montreal’s matches. Although the Impact have lost three of those four, Garde has not had any reason to single out Edwards for a lack of effort. In fact, he has played Edwards for almost the full 90 minutes in each of those games, across all midfield positions. Montreal has 22 games remaining — plenty of time for Raheem to shine.
Arguably, we have saved the best for last. Leaving Toronto after the Reds refused to offer him a raise on what he received in 2017, Steven Beitashour signed a new deal with expansion side LAFC. A big new contract, a new team, and a beautiful new stadium have been an absolute boon for Beita.
Beitashour has started all of LAFC’s first 11 games this season. Employed as either a right wingback or a true midfielder, the California native has recorded one goal, three assists and five shots. If he maintains his defensive aerials won per match (1.1), clearances per match (2.4), dribbles and key passes per game (0.9 and 1.0, respectively), then he will record four-year highs in all categories.
Despite his fantastic performance so far this season, and his strong contribution to TFC’s success in 2016 and 2017, a recent report from the LA Times states that Beita will not be appearing in the World Cup. According to the report, Beita didn’t even make Iran’s 35-man provisional roster.
Even a sideways glance at Iran’s depth chart begs the question: was this a political snub more than a pure football decision? Captain Obvious has his opinion.
Nevertheless, remaining in North America and enjoying a bit of rest during the World Cup will benefit Beita over the remaining grind of both the MLS season and the U.S. Open Cup tournament. Much like when he was left out of Toronto FC’s 2018 plans, Iran’s self-created loss will be LAFC’s gain.
As they say in the corporate world: we thank all five players for contributing to the success of our organization, and we wish them continued success in their future endeavours (so long as that success does not come at the expense of our beloved TFC).