TFC’s Nick Hagglund impressing as Moor’s temporary replacement

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, middle. (Frank Gunn/CP)

TORONTO – Just be yourself.

That was the simple yet sage advice that veteran defender Drew Moor gave youngster Nick Hagglund ahead of Toronto FC’s visit to the Columbus Crew last weekend.

Moor, 33, had played every minute of the team’s five games this season before the Columbus trip, leading a three-man defence that kept three clean sheets and conceded just four goals. Last year, his first in Toronto after joining the club as a free agent, Moor played in 32 of 34 regular-season games (all as a starter) and was a major reason why the Reds posted the second-best defensive record in Major League Soccer, with just 39 goals against. The year before, without Moor, Toronto gave up a league-high 58 goals.

But Moor was ruled out for the game against the Crew after he was discovered to have an irregular heartbeat during a medical examination following a training session earlier in the week. That meant that Hagglund, 24, had to shift over from left fullback into the centre of TFC’s backline, a position he only played once before – in a pre-season game back in February.

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Hagglund hardly looked out of place quarterbacking Toronto’s defence, and even though the Reds lost 2-1 in Columbus, the product of Xavier University was able to distinguish himself with his solid play by simply being himself, and not trying to emulate the more experienced Moor.

“Drew just told me to be myself and not to worry, and just make sure that I was constantly communicating to the people on my left and right. He wanted me to play the way that I play. He didn’t want me to be something that I’m not, so it was smart advice,” Hagglund said.

With a new position comes major adjustments. For Hagglund, one of the biggest was talking to central midfielders Michael Bradley and Armando Cooper to make sure they were picking up Columbus’ trailing forward on attacking plays.

And instead of always looking to his right for Moor when playing at left fullback, now he had to be in sync with both outside defenders and organize the team’s defensive posture.

“There was a lot more responsibility in communicating to the other guys around me, and just making sure that everyone’s on the same page,” Hagglund said.

TFC coach Greg Vanney, the man whose opinion matters the most, felt the six-foot-one, 193-pound defender was a natural fit for the position. If Moor is out for more games, expect Vanney to have Hagglund to fill the gap in the centre of defence after his poised and mature performance last week in Columbus.

“I thought Nick did a great job. … I think it makes sense for him – he uses his athleticism and his size. He’s comfortable on the ball enough to make those initial passes. In a wide-open game, he was using his athleticism to deal with plays as good as I’ve ever seen him,” Vanney stated.

“We don’t necessarily want to be in that [situation], but given that we were, Nick was enormous in helping us deal with situations that could have [led to] more problems. A lot of that was just because his capacity to cover a lot of ground and deal with things.”

NOTES: Vanney didn’t offer any update on Moor’s condition when speaking to reporters after Wednesday’s practice. Moor was scheduled to see a cardiologist sometime this week. Until Moor gets that assessment and then any possible follow-up treatment, he’s not allowed to train with the team, which means there’s a good chance he won’t be available to play in Friday’s home game against the Chicago Fire… Vanney said that starting goalkeeper Clint Irwin is a week and half away from returning to full training. Irwin has been sidelined since April 2 with a hamstring strain.