TORONTO – Steven Caldwell is used to being in the thick of the action.
Toronto FC’s captain and veteran centre back has routinely been one of the first names on coach Ryan Nelsen’s team sheet since joining the Reds last May—Caldwell has made 26 Major League Soccer appearances (all as a starter) and accumulated 2,336 minutes in playing time.
But he was suspended for last week’s 2-0 road win over the Columbus Crew, only the third game he’s missed during his tenure in Toronto. Caldwell didn’t travel to Ohio with his teammates. Instead, he watched the game on television from the comfort of his home as an injury-depleted TFC side outplayed and outclassed the Crew.
Watching the game on his couch was an unusual experience, one the Scottish defender doesn’t want to relive anytime soon.
“I don’t like missing games, especially when I’m fit, so it was a horrible weekend, a horrible day. … But after the game I was very, very happy and very proud,” Caldwell stated.
Coach Nelsen quipped: “For a guy like Steven, to be on his couch, it was probably an experience he doesn’t want to repeat. Hopefully he never has to.”
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Canadian defender Doneil Henry also missed the Columbus contest through injury. The absences of Caldwell and Henry forced Nelsen to go with a new central defensive pairing in Bradley Orr and rookie Nick Hagglund, who was making his professional debut.
Orr, who usually plays as a right back, was impressive in anchoring a Toronto defence that was barely troubled by the Crew on the night. Hagglund, a native of Ohio who had several family members and friends in attendance, played with great poise and maturity, displaying keen positional sense and dealing with danger effectively.
Caldwell said both centre backs were “magnificent.”
“Young Nick coming into his first game and a lot of expectations on him in his home state, he was absolutely outstanding. He has a bright future,” Caldwell opined.
Caldwell also had high praise for Jackson, TFC’s all-purpose Brazilian winger who himself returned to the starting lineup after sitting out the previous game through suspension.
“The work rate that Jackson puts into every single game is just phenomenal. What a fantastic player and what a difference he makes to this team—taking the ball forward, stretching the play, work rate and determination.”
Watching the game on television also gave Caldwell a unique perspective on his team.
“It was strange, but I also learned some things about our guys and us as a team, which I was a little bit surprised about. When you’re out there on the park, sometimes it’s too frantic to actually notice little things about people, good and bad. I could see a few things about some guys that were interesting and nice to see,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell was issued a yellow card for his late tackle on Ned Grabavoy in a 3-0 road loss to Real Salt Lake on Mar. 29. But even though the referee dealt with the foul, Caldwell was handed an additional one-game ban and ordered to pay an undisclosed fine by the league’s disciplinary committee, ruling him out for the trip to Columbus.
It was a late and ugly tackle, but Caldwell maintains he wasn’t trying to hurt Grabavoy. Nor will the suspension change the way he plays the game, including Saturday’s home contest versus the Colorado Rapids where Caldwell will be back in the starting lineup for Toronto.
“I don’t think twice about going into a tackle. I make decisions on the park, some right and some wrong. I make them for a whole variety of reasons. Obviously I never go in to hurt people. I never have. I’ve been sent off a lot of times but never for dirty play,” Caldwell explained.