By Randy Davis
If you have been around soccer for very long you’ve probably heard things like “the midfield is the engine” or “the style of play is dictated by the midfield”. This makes logical sense due to the fact that the midfield should have the majority of possession of the ball, and what they do with the ball will affect the tempo and style of play on the pitch.
If that’s the case, look for the style of play in Toronto to be up-tempo, creative and very much an attacking style. This re-vamped midfield features the return of players such as attacking midfielder Amado Guevara, winger Rohan Ricketts and defensive midfielder Carl Robinson. To that group has been added Toronto native and MLS standout, Dwayne DeRosario and talented, versatile rookie Sam Cronin. This entire group oozes talent, and may be one of the most capable and entertaining midfields in the league. Here is a look at the group:
The Welsh international player has been with the club the longest of the group having been around since Toronto’s inaugural season. He had a solid career in England playing with teams at various levels but chose to come to MLS when the opportunity arose. He is known to be solid in his defensive midfield role and can be a bit feisty at times.
According to teammate Rohan Ricketts, Robinson “is like the cog. He’s more disciplined. He’s very good on the ball. He’s so clever.”
Rickett’s path to MLS is an interesting one, having grown up in the Arsenal youth system and then playing for Tottenham. He ultimately found himself at Barnsley in lower division English football where he had fallen out of favor with the manager. His path to Toronto is part of him owning up to his shortcomings, “I felt like I had a divine right and I took my foot off the pedal. I took a look at myself in the mirror and said is it me? I wanted to leave the country and get a fresh start to get that fire back.”
Rickett’s had some inconsistency during his first season, but showed flashes consistent with his Premier League pedigree.
DeRo is a versatile player who has played in several attacking roles, either centrally in the midfield, out wide or up top. His experience and propensity to score goals at key moments is as legendary as his post goal celebration “chicken dance.”
The arrival of DeRosario in Toronto has created a lot of energy among the fan base. It helps that he grew up within a couple of miles of the stadium. But make no mistake about it, he was brought there because of his skill, his championship experience, and his positive influence in the clubhouse.
According to Coach Carver, “We said at the time how big a player he is. And he’s a good guy in the dressing room. We use that experience because when the pressure’s on he’ll be able to deal with it.”
Toronto is Guevara’s second stop in MLS after spending most of his time with Mo Johnston at New York the first time around before being traded to Chivas where there was some friction and he was ultimately released.
The attacking midfielder is smooth on the field and has strong technical ability. While maybe a bit exaggerated, Ricketts told Goal.com this about teammate’s ability, “If Amado Guevara went to play for Barcelona tomorrow he wouldn’t look out of place. He’s that good.”
With the talented and packed midfield in front of him, you would assume that rookie Sam Cronin out of Wake Forest wouldn’t have a chance of cracking this lineup, but don’t bet on it. Coach Carver was impressed with Cronin through the recent Carolina Challenge Cup preseason tournament, and claimed that Cronin doesn’t look like a rookie.
Rickett’s also likes what he sees, “I’ve been impressed with him. He’s similar to Carl Robinson. His passing is good. He gets in tight. He can play several positions.”
So those are the components of what is a very talented midfield and could elevate this young franchise to its first playoff berth. However, we’ll have to see how this group works together. They are likely to play a very attacking style with DeRosario, Guevara and Ricketts all known more as attacking players than two-way players. This will put a lot of pressure on Robinson and the defense if those who push forward don’t make a concerted effort to trackback and help defend.
Another interesting question is whether or not Guevara and DeRosario can coexist, share the ball and share the limelight. Both are used to having the ball at their feet and taking on key responsibilities such as free kicks and penalty kicks. DeRosario will likely play off the ball as he has done that often throughout his career, but don’t expect him to back away willingly from a free kick.
Guevara feels that they are coming together as a team, “We are starting to gell very well together and doing very well”. Coach Carver agrees, “They are combining quite nicely. It takes a little time to get an understanding there but I think they’ve hit it off quite quickly. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
With the season opener looming, we’ll soon see how this “engine” looks like on the pitch.
Randy Davis is a regular contributor to Goal.com.