Toronto FC captain Darren O'Dea embraces challenging return to left back

Toronto FC defender Darren O'Dea

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TORONTO – When Republic of Ireland international Darren O’Dea joined Toronto FC last August, it was expected that the 26-year-old had been brought in to stabilize Toronto’s backline as the team’s main central defender.

However, injuries and TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen’s preference for experience at the back have seen O’Dea filling in at left back, and doing an effective job. While the move might have come as surprise to TFC supporters and pundits alike, it is one that the Dublin, Ireland native has taken in stride.

“I’ve played a lot of games there,” O’Dea told MLSsoccer.com. “I played in the [UEFA] Champions League there and in cup finals. I’ve actually played a lot of left back but not for the last couple of years. So it is a tiny bit of an adjustment.

“I don’t by any stretch think that it is my strongest position,” he added. “However, if the manager asks me to play there, I have no problem with it. I enjoy it and, if it helps the team, I’m happy to do it.”

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The Reds return to action on Saturday at D.C. United, looking to snap a 12-game winless streak dating back to March 9.

More challenging than getting up and down the left side for O’Dea has been dealing with extensive travel that comes from playing in the MLS and representing an Republic of Ireland national team that plays the majority of its matches across the Atlantic Ocean — though he did have a shorter trip for his latest call-up, Ireland's 2-0 friendly loss to Spain at Yankee Stadium in New York on Tuesday. 

“It’s obviously a bit tougher on the legs, especially with the flying [back and forth to Europe for international duty],” O’Dea said. “While I’ve not played at left back for maybe two years, truthfully I am the fittest I have been in maybe three years and I think that has been down to having had a preseason. I had not been settled for a few years, so I’m fit enough to play there and I feel good.”

He's certainly shown his coach he can do the job.

“Darren has done really well [at left back],” Nelsen said. “His technique is really good, so he can pass and he is crossing well.”

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TFC's captain has linked up with recent acquisition Bobby Convey to give the Reds a completely new, veteran look on the left side of the pitch. Bringing years of MLS experience to the spot right in front of O'Dea, Toronto's new winger has eased the former Celtic FC defender's transition back out wide.

“Bobby is a good player and it is easy to play with good players,” O’Dea said. “I enjoy playing with him and he is a good guy as well. We work well off of each other.”

How long O’Dea continues to man the left back spot is probably something that even Nelsen doesn’t yet know. The TFC coach has often stated that it is the players that make the lineup by virtue of their play and the results produced. In that vein, the Irishman’s tenure at left back may depend as much on how well the other defenders on Toronto’s roster play as on his own performances.

“I don’t know [how long I will play at left back],” O’Dea said. “Whatever Ryan decides, I will do. He is the manager and, wherever he wants me to play, I’m more than happy to do it. If it is long-term, then fine. If it is not, it’s not. We’ll just have to wait and see.”