TORONTO — By the time the Nutrilite Canadian Championship second leg was over, Toronto FC did not have a single center back — starter or backup — available on their squad.
Manager Aron Winter’s No. 1 option to start the victorious match against the Vancouver Whitecaps? Shift regular right back Richard Eckersley into the middle.
“To be honest, I don’t mind, as long as I’m playing football, as long as I’m helping the team,” Eckersley said.
And help the team he did as TFC won a third consecutive Voyageurs Cup on Saturday, a stirring 2-1 comeback victory at BMO Field.
Injuries and inexperience at the center back spot created the need for the 22-year-old on loan from Burnley to fill in against Vancouver.
At the end of May, Adrian Cann suffered a season-ending ACL during a training session. That brought 22-year-old Nana Attakora back into the picture but late in the June 4 goal-less draw against Sporting Kansas City, he suffered a quadriceps strain and he has not returned.
Then 18-year-old Doneil Henry was given a run out and, although he showed well, his inexperience predictably did at times, too.
Add to that the injury Dicoy Williams picked up while playing for Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and it meant Toronto FC were short in the middle so Eckersley, who had some playing time at center back a few seasons ago with the Manchester United reserves, got the call.
“So that’s probably helping me,” he said. “You can’t go forward, you’ve got to put the shackles on a little bit. It’s more about positioning and reading the game. You’re pretty much the last man on the field, so everything has got to be perfect. It’s good for me as well because I can see it from the fullback’s point of view.”
Eckersley partnered with Ty Harden in the center for most of Saturday’s match, but Harden came out in the second half with an ankle injury. That could mean Eckersley with be in the center of things for a while longer.
When asked whether Eckersley will be back at the heart of the back line, manager Winter didn’t think twice.
“I think yes, because he is doing well,” Winter said.