The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
English fullback Richard Eckersley looks forward to future after Toronto FC
TORONTO - Richard Eckersley had hoped to say his Toronto FC farewell on the pitch.
But the 24-year-old English fullback will say his goodbyes instead via the media as the MLS club holds its end-of-season wrap Monday — for the seventh straight year in advance of the playoffs.
Eckersley, like striker Danny Koevermans and goalkeeper Stefan Frei, is headed out the door. All three have been deemed surplus to requirements.
Eckersley's crime is he is too expensive in a league whose salary cap was US$2.95 million this season.
His salary was listed at $90,000 in 2011, $390,000 in 2012 and $310,000 in 2013.
Of course the salary cap figures revealed by the MLS Players Union only tell part of the story with clubs able to use allocation money to reduce the amount that is publicly listed.
The contracts of Koevermans (only $368,750 of his $1.663 million salary counted against the 2013 salary cap as a designated player) and Frei ($200,000) both expire later this year.
But Eckersley has one more year, worth more than $500,000 thanks to a renegotiation to lighten the cap hit this year.
Chances are the team will rid itself of that burden, using a once-a-year available buyout that does not count against the salary cap.
Eckersley hopes that will lead to a job with another MLS team.
"I'd definitely like to stay (in MLS). If you're playing for a successful team, I think it would be a great league to play in. It's just that for the last two and a half years we've not been successful.
"I like the league, I like how they play."
He saw action in just 13 league wins with Toronto.
Eckersley played in 72 league games, including 70 starts, in total. Frei played in 82 (all starts) while the injury-plagued Koevermans had 30 games (22 starts).
Their departures will leave 22-year-old fullback Ashtone Morgan (66 games) atop the list for league appearances in a Toronto FC shirt.
Next on the list are midfielders Reggie Lambe (55 games) and Jeremy Hall (54 games) and 20-year-old defender Doneil Henry (49 games).
Eckersley played for Paul Mariner, Toronto's former director of player development and manager, while on loan at Plymouth Argyle.
A popular player with TFC supporters, Eckersley is an energetic and versatile defender. A full-bodied fullback who loves to race down the flank, he played on the right and left as well as in central defence when needed.
He added competitiveness and bite to the Toronto backline.
Eckersley's 2013 season was marred by injury, however, and ended early as the team made it clear it was looking to the future. He was ruled out of a Sept. 14 game in New York because of an injury sustained in training and then sat out the next five games while the team gave Mark Bloom ($46,500) an audition at right fullback.
Eckersley never complained publicly.
"If the gaffer (manager Ryan Nelsen) feels I'm not going to be here next season, then he's going to try to plan for future seasons," he said.
His regret is not being able to "say thanks to the fans and wave them goodbye, so to speak."
"They've been very good to me," he said. "Honestly the support's been fantastic every week — week in, week out."
Eckersley's frustrations started at training camp this year.
"I knew that they wanted to look at my contract so I had that in the back of my mind. In pre-season, I was really frustrated and my head was kind of elsewhere. Up until I realized I'm just going to play. I'm just going to play for me and then if the club sorts it out, then they sort it out."
He started the first five games of the season then injured his hamstring celebrating teammate Darel Russell's 90th-minute equalizer against FC Dallas on April 6. Eckersley missed the next three months as his hamstring refused to co-operate.
He returned July 13 and started 11 games straight before the New York game signalled the beginning of the end.
"It's been a frustrating year, but that's football isn't it," he said philosophically. "You've just got to kind of deal with it. Everyone deals with it in different ways. I just try to get on the training pitch and hopefully good things come from there."
Publicly, Nelsen has said Eckersley is a fine player who is a victim of his contract and the MLS salary cap. He jokes that Eckersley's agent did too good a job negotiating the deal.
Eckersley, for his part, notes that he arrived on loan so there was plenty of talk with Toronto about wages. Plus the former Manchester United and Burnley product "was on a lot of money in England."
"So for me to come out here, I needed decent money, so to speak."
Eckersley expects Toronto to do better next year, in his absence.
"It will be sad to leave but hopefully I'll go to a successful team. But it's been a great two and a half years and I can't really thank the fans and the players enough really."
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