A small ray of sunshine has emerged through the dark, ominous clouds hovering over Toronto FC.
Coach Aron Winter has revealed that injured captain Torsten Frings is days (and not weeks) away from returning to action and could play in Saturday’s home game against Chivas USA.
Frings, a former German international, has been sidelined since straining his hamstring in the club’s Major League Soccer regular season opener in Seattle on Mar. 17. The original prognosis was that Frings, 35, would miss four to six weeks.
But Winter claims the German midfielder is “very close to coming back” and he could see action against Chivas on the weekend.
“That we have to wait and see. … It could be. It could be,” Winter told reporters Tuesday morning prior to the team’s practice.
Frings was not made available to talk to the media to offer comment on his condition.
Even if Frings doesn’t feature against Chivas, his imminent return to the lineup is welcome news to a Toronto side that finds itself in last place in MLS. The Reds have lost their first four games to start the season and have been outscored 9-2 in the process.
With a wealth of experience and having played in two World Cups for his country, Frings is easily TFC’s best and most influential player. The veteran German not only anchors the Reds’ midfield, but has also routinely acted as a defensive sweeper and dropped back as a fifth defender, a testament to his versatility.
One can’t overstate the importance of Frings to a team that conceded a league-high 59 goals during the 2011 MLS campaign. TFC continues to struggle on the back end this season, with mental mistakes and poor defending from the back four still the norm, and not the exception.
Still, defender Richard Eckerlsey contends the club can make do without the German against Chivas.
“Torsten is our captain (and) he’s the leader on this team. But I think we’ve got great players in the team already and we can do the job either way,” Eckerlsey said. “Torsten (would be) a good boost for us but if he doesn’t play then we’ll have to deal with it and go about the game the way we normally do.”
Frings isn’t the answer to all of Toronto’s pressing problems, including its inability to finish off scoring chances. He also can’t cover up for every defensive miscue, or the way some of his teammates carelessly concede possession.
While midfielder Terry Dunfield feels TFC is not getting that extra bit of luck, he also thinks the team needs to cut out the individual errors because opponents are ruefully capitalizing on those mistakes.
“We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot a little bit right now. I think we are real close to putting a good run together,” Dunfield stated.
The Canadian midfielder admits this losing streak larges loom: — “There’s no hiding from it; we need three points, for sure” — but he also believes things are not as bad as the club’s 0-4 record indicates.
“If we weren’t creating chances then you’d be worried, and then you would think maybe we need to change things,” Dunfield opined. “When things go well and we’re firing on all cylinders we’re a real exciting team to watch. You’ve seen that in parts of the season; we just need to put together a full 90 minutes now.”
Eckerlsey is equally optimistic, and thinks that the club can fully focus on MLS now that it has been eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League and no longer has to split its time between the two competitions.
“We’re only four games into the season. It’s been a difficult run in with COCNACAF. Saturday to me is like a clean slate. We’re starting again. … I believe in this team. I think we’ve got a great team and a great team spirit. We just have to be patient and it will all come good,” Eckersley stated.
But the club can’t afford to be too patient, because if it doesn’t start earning victories and picking up points soon, it could find itself in an even bigger hole to dig out of with regards to the playoff picture.
“We can’t let the next three points slip away because the season is going quicker than you think and you can easily get out of the playoffs,” goalkeeper Milos Kocic warned.