TORONTO – After missing three months of the season due to a hamstring injury suffered in April, Toronto FC fullback Richard Eckersley has stepped back into the TFC starting XI and shown few ill effects from his extended run on the sidelines.
TFC coach Ryan Nelsen has labeled the 24- year-old Worsley, England, native as a naturally fit player on several occasions and Eckersley has certainly looked physically robust since returning to Toronto’s lineup last month.
“I feel fine and there are no problems, touch wood,” Eckersley told MLSsoccer.com. “I’m just giving it everything I’ve got in each game.”
While the Manchester United youth product has enjoyed a seamless transition back to full match fitness, he does admit that he has had to get used to a TFC squad that underwent a multitude of significant changes while he was unable to play.
With prominent early season players such as Darren O’Dea, Terry Dunfield, Luis Silva, Danny Califf, Hogan Emphraim and John Bostock leaving the club and being replaced by newcomers such as Steven Caldwell, Matias Laba, Bobby Convey, Alvaro Rey, Jonas Elmer and Maximiliano Urruti, Eckersley ultimately came back to a team that was vastly different from the one that was in place when he was injured against Dallas in the spring.
“It helps when you are in the changing room and you are around the new players every day,” Eckersley said. “Obviously it is different when you are on the pitch, but at least I know their names.”
According to Eckersley, the changes that the Toronto FC brass have made over the course of the 2013 campaign have been positive ones that have seen the club come out better on the other end.
“The quality on the pitch now is like night and day a little bit,” Eckersley added. “I say that with no disrespect to the other players [that have left the club]. But as a team unit, it is like night and day.”
Not surprisingly, one TFC newcomer who has made a particularly strong impression on Eckersley is Caldwell, Toronto’s current backline leader and his former teammate with Burnley in England.
“Steven’s vocal skills are unbelievable and that is so important,” Eckersley said. “People sometimes disregard that part of a footballer. Especially as a center half, his vocal skills are unquestionable. Obviously, he is also a player who gets his head on every ball and wins the aerial battles. He is brilliant.”
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As for Caldwell, the veteran central defender was not shy to admit that he is now glad to be getting a chance to play with Eckersley on a regular basis.
“Richard is an important member of our team,” Caldwell said. “I was with him for a year at Burnley. Unfortunately for Ecks, he wasn’t playing much then. He was my teammate for a season and I trained with him for a year and I knew him well. It was nice to have him here when I got here.”
With his return to form and Toronto’s infusion of talent at multiple positions, Eckersely is bullish on TFC’s prospects as a team going forward.
“We just need to dig in a little bit deeper, so we can pull off results now,” Eckersley said. “I think we are getting there and we have to be patient. For me it has been a tough three years given that we have not had too many results, but I think good times are around the corner. If we can keep this squad together, I think we will be just fine.”