The 2012 Major League Soccer season is barely two weeks old and Toronto FC is already facing a crisis.
The Canadian club announced that captain Torsten Frings, a former German international, is expected to miss the next four to six weeks with a strained right hamstring. Frings, 35, was injured during TFC’s season opening road loss to the Seattle Sounders on the weekend.
TFC coach Aron Winter told reporters after Tuesday’s practice that the club is looking to sign a new player and also look within the current roster for someone to replace the injured Frings in the starting line-up.
“We are looking for a player similar to Torsten,” Winter stated. “You need somebody who is a leader on the pitch and also away from the pitch. Torsten is very important for us but (I think) we also have solutions in our own roster.”
What one of those solutions might be, and specifically who on the roster he feels will take Frings’ place, Winter wasn’t saying.
“That’s for Saturday, not for now. I’m not going to comment,” the Dutchman replied.
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.
“It’s a big loss because he’s a very good player and plays with strong soccer knowledge. He’s very important for the team, and to replace him isn’t easy,” Winter said.
One can’t overstate the importance of Frings to a team that conceded a league-high 59 goals last season. Based on the Seattle game and the two CONCACAF Champions League matches, it’s clear that TFC continues to struggle on the back end, with mental mistakes and poor defending from the back four still the norm, and not the exception.
Without Frings to babysit them, the new central defensive pairing of Miguel Aceval and Ty Harden will have their work cut out. One MLS insider believes they won’t be able to handle it without the German’s assistance.
“The difference between Frings and TFC’s defenders is that he reads the game and can snuff out danger before it even happens. The rest of them don’t even see the danger coming,” he explained.
Indeed, it was while Frings was mopping up behind Aceval and Harden and making a goal-saving tackle that he suffered the injury in Seattle.
While Harden admits the Reds are going to feel the absence of Frings, he’s confident the club has enough depth to survive the German’s absence for the time being.
“I don’t think our team totally depends on him in every way so we’ll be okay. … I think we’ll be fine,” Harden said.
The test of the team’s resolve and stability will come between now and April when TFC plays eight games, including its two-legged semifinal against Santos Laguna of Mexico in the Champions League.
It’s a steep learning curve, especially with Frings unavailable.
“We’ve been working at it. It’s still a work in progress but I think every team is trying to build and we’re trying to get there as soon as we can,” Harden said.
The defence could soon receive a boost, as Winter stated central defender Adrian Cann should be able to play in two to three weeks. Cann underwent surgery in the off-season after suffering a knee injury last May. The Canadian has not played since.
The prognosis for fellow defender Dicoy Williams, who suffered a season-ending knee injury shortly after Cann, is not as good. The Jamaican continues to train on his own (Cann is working out with the rest of the team) and will take a bit longer before he is ready to return.
Winter also confirmed Tuesday that left back Ashtone Morgan will remain with TFC and not go away on international duty with Canada’s Olympic side. The Canadian team will compete in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament from March 22 to April 2.