Richard Eckersley is gone, but it’ll probably be quite some time before he’s completely forgotten by the Toronto FC faithful.
That’s not to say he’ll one day see his name on BMO Field’s Wall of Honour. But the English right back who came up through the Manchester United youth system won the respect of TFC’s coaching staff during his three seasons with the Reds with his consistent and poised performances.
Eckersley was also very popular with the fans, who appreciated his workmanlike attitude and the quiet way he carried himself both on and off the field. He was a very kind soul—Eckersley stopped this correspondent dead in his tracks while out for a jog one afternoon last summer because he wanted to introduce his parents who were visiting from England.
So when Eckersley was traded last month to the New York Red Bulls because of his exorbitant (by MLS standards) contract, it was understood by all why he had to leave. But there was still a sense of loss for fans, as if an old friend was moving out of town who you’d probably never see again.
Enter Bradley Orr, another Englishman who TFC signed on loan from Blackburn Rovers last month to replace the departed Eckersley at right fullback. Orr, 31, never crossed paths with Eckersley in England, though he knew of him. And while Orr respects the former TFC defender, he’s not at all concerned with equalling the standard Eckersley set on the field with his performances or matching his popularity with supporters.
“It’s great that [Eckersley] was popular with the fans, but he’s not here now. That’s past tense. I can only focus on myself, and certainly it hasn’t entered my mind that I have to be as good or better than him,” Orr told Sportsnet.
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Orr might not be as a dangerous an attacking threat down the right flank as Eckersley proved to be, but the Liverpool native prides himself on being a workmanlike defender noted for his toughness on the field.
“I’ll bring honesty in everything I do—I’ll always work hard and try to be the best I can be,” Orr said. “So I’ll bring honesty and experience to the group.”
Orr said he had other options in England, but agreed to a loan with TFC after seeing the major moves the Reds made this off-season, including signing forwards Jermain Defoe and Gilberto, and midfielder Michael Bradley to Designated Player contracts.
“The ambition of the club speaks volumes. It’s there for everyone to see. I was surprised by how good the set up here was—I’ve never known anything like it in my career, in terms of facilities and structure and stability within the club. All of these factors played a major role in my coming here,” Orr said.
The chance to once again play with TFC captain Steven Caldwell was also too good for Orr to pass up.
The two forged a friendship during their brief time together at Newcastle United in the early 2000s. When TFC expressed an interest in Orr, he immediately phoned Caldwell for advice and to ask him about the MLS club.
“I’ve known Stevie for close to 20 years. We’ve kept in touch, even during the past few years when our careers went down different paths,” Orr said. “I’m delighted to be joining up with him again, because he’s exactly the same as he was when I first met as far as his leadership. He’s definite captain material.”
Orr is also a former teammate of TFC coach Ryan Nelsen, albeit briefly: He joined Blackburn in January 2012 just days before Nelsen moved to Tottenham. He’s looking forward to playing for Nelsen, who he describes as a “top class” manager.
TFC will be looking forward to having him, as defensive struggles have scuttled recent seasons. In 2013, TFC conceded a whopping 47 goals in 34 regular season games—an improvement on the 62 goals they gave up the year before, but still too many for a team to be competitive.
A player of Orr’s experience, not to mention the addition of American left fullback Justin Morrow, should help shore up TFC’s defence. Introducing two new players to the starting back line could cause short-term problems, although Orr feels those can be ironed out in pre-season ahead of the Reds’ regular season opener on March 15 in Seattle against the Sounders.
“It’s about getting to know each other’s game over the next month,” Orr said. “What I have seen so far is some fantastic players and some real good competition for starting places. If we can gel and get to know each other, I think we’ll be great.
“The depth we have within the squad is excellent.”