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    The defence rests



    Took the weekend off to recharge the batteries, and now it’s time to rev up for the MLS regular season.

    Toronto FC training camp is well under way, and we’re getting good – and bad – glimpses of what we’re going to see when The Big Show opens in Kansas City on March 21.


    That’s still five weeks out, so maybe it’s not quite panic time in the centre of defence. On the other hand though….

    Last year, the TFC back four was anchored by Tyrone Marshall and Marco Velez, with regular cameo appearances by top draft pick Julius James. It didn’t go well.

    Yes, you can argue that four other MLS teams conceded more goals than Toronto’s 43. Heck, the New England Revolution gave up the exact same number, and finished third in the East Division.

    That hugely misses the point, I think. Far too many of Toronto’s goals-against were sloppy, unprofessional and embarrassing. Cut those out, and this team could easily have been in the playoffs last fall.

    Since the season ended, Marshall and James have been dealt – and no one exciting or significant has been signed. That leaves Velez, who proved fairly conclusively last season – I thought – that he is not equal to the job. A good USL defender and captain of Puerto Rico, but he was consistently wrong-footed and out of position throughout the 2008 campaign.

    The nightmare scenario? TFC starting the season with a three-man D, with Velez minding the shop in the middle.

    While I am nowhere near the tactical equal of TFC coach John Carver, I wince at the idea of three at the back. It’s far too open and exposed. This is a team that lack defending options with four back there. Even the mention of a short-staffed line of three makes me wince.

    Okay, there are options. Just off of last year’s roster, you could slide Kevin Harmse into Marshall’s vacancy. The oft-criticized Canadian international did some time at the back in ’08, and usually seemed to settle things down. I remain concerned about his proven ability to get red-carded, however.

    There’s also the possibility of Carl Robinson moving back from holding midfield to centre back. Coach Carver has acknowledged this is a legitimate approach, but he quickly added (The Soccer Show, last Thursday) that he felt the Welsh veteran was TFC’s most valuable player last season, and he wants to keep him right where he is.

    No defenders drafted, the odd lower-division veteran scuffing around camp – and Marco Velez at the top of the depth chart, with a hole beside him, and speedy outlet options Jim Brennan and Marvell Wynne on the wings.

    So, the happy act of monitoring TFC in training has also become a horizon-watch for competent defenders who can shovel in some skill to fill this worrying hole.

    But that’s me. How are you feeling, Reds fans? Do you like three at the back? Would you go with what we’ve got? Or is this team so powerful in attack, it doesn’t even matter how many goals they concede?

    The comments section awaits.


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