TORONTO – It’s been a long road back for Steven Beitashour.
But now that Beitashour has returned from a lengthy injury layoff, will he have to earn back his job as a starter for Toronto FC?
Coach Greg Vanney faces an interesting selection choice at the right wingback position as the Reds enter the stretch of Major League Soccer’s regular season: Does he reintroduce Beitashour into the starting 11, or does he opt for continuity by picking Nicolas Hasler?
Beitashour collided with Montreal Impact defender Kyle Fisher in the Canadian Championship final on June 27, and underwent surgery on his pancreas. After close to two months on the sidelines, Beitashour made his return in TFC’s 3-1 road win over the Chicago Fire on the weekend when he subbed in for the last 13 minutes. He ended up replacing Hasler, who scored the go-ahead goal, his first in three games for Toronto since signing with the club as a free agent last month.
Hasler has integrated himself more into the team with each passing contest, and he was by all accounts one of the Reds’ best players in the Chicago win. With this in mind, and considering Beitashour’s recent absence due to injury, don’t be surprised if you see Hasler get the start when Toronto hosts the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night.
“For us with Beita, it’s to continue to take steps to get him back to full fitness. You don’t go from doing nothing for six to eight weeks to being totally match fit,” Vanney said.
“We do want to get Beita up to full fitness and make sure that down the stretch that he’s ready to go. Depending on the game, depending on form, depending on everything else, we’ll see who’s going to get the nod on the day.”
When Beitashour went down injured, general manager Tim Bezbatchenko immediately starting working the phones and ended up signing Hasler, a player who the Reds had been tracking for quite some time. Thus far, the Lichtenstein international has looked solid playing on the right flank.
“Every game, he’s got better. Every game he’s got more comfortable. Every game he’s had more and more influence. It’s not the easiest system, and he’s transitioning to a new league, and a new country, a new team and new expectations, new teammates … we were patient with him trying to get [match] fit. I think he continues to get a better feel for all of it,” Vanney offered.
The mild-mannered Hasler noted the challenges he’s faced in acclimating himself to life in MLS after spending most of his career in Switzerland’s top division.
“It’s a very physical league. You have to run a lot. The Swiss league is a little bit more technical,” Hasler said.
Beitashour, of course, is the incumbent for a reason. The Iranian international has been a mainstay for TFC ever since coming over in a trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps prior to the 2016 season, starting in 42 regular-season games and six playoff matches.
Still, it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility that Hasler could replace Beitashour as Toronto’s starting right wingback.
Don’t think it can’t happen? Cast your mind back to last July when Will Johnson picked up a knee injury and was ruled out for several weeks. When Johnson eventually came back, Armando Cooper was firmly ensconced in Toronto’s starting lineup, and Johnson was relegated to the bench and had to largely make do playing as a substitute.
Cooper was a different player from Johnson and the Panamanian gave TFC a different look, but that didn’t stop Vanney from selecting him over Johnson, who was more of a proven commodity in MLS.
Likewise, Hasler and Beitashour play the same position but go about it in different ways.
“Beita’s [defensive instincts] are his strength. He’s a very good one-on-one defender. He’s a very good at sensing danger early, and cutting it out. That’s his priority,” Vanney explained. “[Hasler] tends to be a little more attacking, and his second strength is defending.”
He later added: “They play [as right wingbacks] differently, so it’s good to have both of them as guys who can play that position in a very competent way.”
NOTES: Toronto is unbeaten in its last 13 regular season home games (with 10 wins) and has scored four goals in each of their last two matches at BMO Field… Wednesday’s contest is the second and final regular-season meeting between Toronto and Philadelphia. The teams battled to a 2-2 draw in Pennsylvania during the second week of the campaign, with Jozy Altidore and Justin Morrow scoring for the Reds… The Union are coming off a 2-2 draw on the road against the San Jose Earthquakes this past weekend and have just one win in their last four contests… After Wednesday’s match, TFC travels to Montreal to take on the Impact on Sunday.