Home MLS Toronto FC TFC’s Payne: “We’ve been building this airplane as it’s in flight”

TFC’s Payne: “We’ve been building this airplane as it’s in flight”

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Toronto FC president Kevin Payne spoke glowingly about Torsten Frings’ leadership qualities during the German midfielder’s retirement announcement on Tuesday, and there is no doubt that Payne will miss Frings as a person and as the Reds’ captain. That said, Payne will find it easier to say goodbye to Frings’ $335K salary cap number and spoke at length about the team’s plans to fill both Frings’ spot and the many other holes on the Toronto roster.

“It’s a loss and it’s a gain,” Payne said. “It’s hard to replace a guy who’s played in two World Cups but now we have a designated-player slot, an international slot and cap money available… We’re playing catch-up with the roster. There’s a lot of stuff that has to happen in a short period of time.”

Payne cited six possible new acquisitions in the offing, with Frings’ DP slot potentially being filled by an unnamed young forward from Argentina who Payne said TFC chief scout Pat Onstad is trying to sign. A more immediate addition could be Queens Park Rangers striker Hogan Ephraim, as Payne said he was hopeful that the 24-year-old Ephraim would be signed to a loan agreement within the next couple of days.

Two other English football names (Welsh striker Robert Earnshaw and Tottenham midfielder John Bostock) will also be joining the Reds in camp for trials, and members of TFC’s coaching staff recently traveled to Honduras to scout two players with the assistance of ex-Toronto star Amado Guevara. All of these players would come in on loan, and while it remains to be seen how many will actually end up wearing the TFC shirt, there is no doubt the team won’t have a full or first-choice roster in play for Saturday’s season open against Vancouver.

(ED. UPDATE. On Tuesday night, at the team’s fan event, TFC revealed that Ephraim was now officially a Red, and that the club had also signed academy prospect Jonathan Osorio and Supplemental Draft pick Taylor Morgan).

“The cavalry is coming but it just won’t arrive quite as quickly as might have hoped at the beginning of the year,” Payne said. “I’m not surprised, we’ve been building this airplane as it’s in flight.”

Despite the Argentine forward, Payne said the team was “not going to rush into anything” when it came to signing another designated player. (The11.ca’s Steven Sandor discussed the wisdom of this logic earlier today.) As for directly filling Frings’ defensive midfield spot, Payne said the search has been ongoing.

“We were certainly looking for players in [Frings’] position anyway. We knew that it wasn’t realistic to assume he was going to play every minute of every game anyway,” Payne said. “There are a couple of young players we’ve identified in different parts of the world that we think could really do a job for us there.”

Toronto signed 34-year-old defensive mid Julio Cesar last month but Payne cautioned against expecting Cesar to fill Frings’ shoes.

“Cesar [has] been nursing some injuries too. Cesar is an older player and we don’t know how much we’ll get out of him, whether it’s a little or a lot. We don’t know that until we get into the season,” Payne said.

Though Frings’ retirement helps the Reds alleviate a cap crunch, there was no hint that his departure was anything less than voluntary. Frings recently implied that 2013 would be his last season anyway and he firmly rejected the idea of a comeback if his hip improved over the next six to 12 months. Since it would’ve taken too long (if ever) for him to return to full, game-ready fitness, the proud Frings decided it was better to end his 18-year career and spare both he and TFC the uncertainty of another lengthy rehabilitation period.

“I think it’s the best for the club and for me because I need too much time to get 100 percent fit again. We decided to do this, and that’s it,” Frings said. “My hip, my body is maybe too weak for a professional soccer career. It’s okay for me, I feel good with this decision. I’m pretty sure Toronto will have a lot of success next year and I’m a little bit sad because I won’t be a part of this.”

Frings underwent hip surgery last September, the most significant fitness issue of a tough season that saw him miss time with hamstring and shoulder injuries. While Frings seemed to be on the road to recovery over the winter, he was very limited during training camp, seeing just 20 minutes of action in actual game action.

“During the preseason camp in Orlando I felt [the pain] in my hip again,” Frings said. “In Germany I just ran and my focus was on fitness and conditioning. During preseason you start playing soccer…and I felt it again.

“I felt it pretty fast, after one or two training sessions. I thought it would maybe get better every day but that was not the case. That’s why I left Orlando, because I wanted to think about everything. I’m happy with the decision and now it’s a new chapter in my life.”

Frings’ 46-game stint with Toronto is a somewhat unsatisfactory coda to his accomplished career, given the injuries and the Reds’ inability to escape the MLS basement. It was clear that Frings was still a high-quality talent when he did take the pitch, however, and could have been even better had he not so often been tasked with propping up TFC’s back line, even to the point of being regularly moved to a sweeper position rather than his customary holding midfield role.

Still, Frings said he still plans to be involved with Toronto FC in some capacity and spoke very highly of his time with the team.

“It was a great experience, a great opportunity for me to play for this franchise. I just want to say thank you,” Frings said. “I gave everything for the club in the last 18 or 20 months. It’s a pity for me, I wanted to have a successful year with Toronto but it’s not possible any more. I gave everything for the fans, we’ll see what they think.”

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