Photo: Richard Eckersley (left) and Logan Emory have started seven straight matches together.
In the Liverpool friendly on Saturday six Toronto FC centre backs were featured. In alphabetical order, Adrian Cann, Logan Emory, Ty Harden, Doneil Henry, Aaron Maund and Dicoy Williams all made an appearance at some point – though not all playing in the middle of the backline.
The number climbs to seven when counting Richard Eckersley, who has been head coach Paul Mariner’s most trusted leader in defence during the current run of good form. Toronto is on a three-game league winning streak for the first time since 2008.
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Video: Logan Emory following the Liverpool match.
Available bodies only tell part of the story. Looking at the players mentioned in the Liverpool match, Cann and Williams are still finding their way back from long-term injuries; Harden has experienced recent fitness issues; Maund is a rookie and Henry still a teenager.
A combination of hard work and circumstance has made Eckersley and Emory the featured pair to steady the Toronto defence. With the exception of a listless team performance during a scorching Philadelphia afternoon, the results have been largely positive in this partnership.
Whether Toronto is successful in securing a defensive target shouldn’t take away from the strong work put in by those already in place under Mariner. 23-year old Eckersley and Emory, 24, have started the last seven meaningful matches together as the Reds' preferred centre back pairing. During that stretch Toronto has four wins and two draws to go with that single Philadelphia defeat.
Mariner has said he is on the lookout for “a boss man, someone who can patrol that back line.” That search remains ongoing, but finding an experienced centre back at a price that meets Major League Soccer’s restrictive parity rules will prove very difficult for Toronto. Even MLS darling, deep-pocketed LA Galaxy wasn’t able to replace its injured defensive star Omar Gonzalez with a high-quality acquisition.
The season-ending affliction to forward and designated player Danny Koevermans didn't help the cause. Toronto had to address the void with a proven goalscorer. The availability of Eric Hassli was too good to pass up and useful forwards are in greater abundance than top centre backs.
The coach has made it clear that his young backline could benefit from the wisdom of a fit, experienced veteran. While that search goes on, it's worth noting Mariner is getting the most out of a youthful group very eager to prove that they can do the job.