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Commentary: Frings brings controversy with him to TFC

Torsten Frings, former German international

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Torsten Frings ruined what should have been the greatest moment in US soccer history.

Yes, there’s blame enough to go around. Referee Hugh Dallas deserves an equal share, as does linesman Philip Sharpe. Both had their heads in the sand on the play.

“The Play,” of course, being Frings’ handball on a Gregg Berhalter shot in the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. Somehow the defender knifed through the German defense, stabbing home an Eddie Pope flick-on and tying the game 1-1 in the 50th minute.

Or not. Because there was Frings, on the post, looking down at the ball, slapping it out for all the world like a set in volleyball.

There was no whistle, no deserved red card and penalty. And to be sure, we’ve seen more cynical since — hello, Luis Suárez! — and it’s not like the World Cup lacks for dramatic handball moments.

Frings, however, will live in infamy in the annals of US soccer lore. The US were playing Germany off the field that day in Ulsan, South Korean, were controlling the midfield and generating chance, after chance, after chance.

And the one time Oliver Kahn wasn’t there, Frings’ arm was.

And now it’s in Toronto.

It’s a fitting landing spot for Frings, as the Canadian MLS teams try to unseat their southern neighbors. Canadian fans have no antipathy toward the German, nor should they. Any chance to see a rival discomfited is a gift, and that’s exactly what Frings gave the Voyageurs back in 2002.

But for the various generations of US national team fans who make up the vast majority of fanbases in the 16 US-based MLS markets, a date against the Reds just got a lot more interesting. The chance to boo, jeer, whistle at the villain himself on America’s shores means a little more atmosphere and, perhaps, a lot more catharsis, since the US team has never really matched the performance they put on against Germany that day.

Yes, there have been dramatic moments, memorable wins both in the World Cup and the Confederations Cup, but nothing approaching the sheer fluidity and artistry Bruce Arena’s team displayed that summer day nine years ago. That was the US at their best, on the biggest stage playing at a level not seen since.

US soccer fans remember that, and Toronto FC are smart to capitalize on it. Give the Yanks a little of their own back, and bump their rivalries up a notch or four in the process.

And if Frings can help plug up the leaky TFC midfield, more’s the better. It’s a move for the present first and foremost, after all.

But it’s a specter from the past as well. For US fans, Frings will forever be the villain of, what is to this point, the best piece the Yanks have yet written.

Matthew Doyle can be reached for comment at matdoyle76@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @MLS_Analyst.