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With captain sidelined, Toronto FC looks to life without Torsten Frings

03/22/2012 05:48 EDT | Updated 05/22/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Facing five games in 14 days, starting with Saturday's home opener against San Jose, Toronto FC is trying to fill the huge void left by injured captain Torsten Frings.

The 35-year-old former German international was helped off the field last Saturday in Toronto's season-opening loss in Seattle, after making a last-ditch tackle in the penalty box.

The cost of that defensive gem was a strained right hamstring that is expected to keep Frings out for four to six weeks.

Manager Aron Winter has been deploying Frings in the middle of the backline of a fluid 3-4-3 formation recently, giving the German licence to move forward as he sees fit.

Frings, who also plays central midfield, has proved to be a dependable stopper with a no-nonsense style. While he has a great passing eye and a deft touch on the ball, Frings is not averse to simply hoofing the ball out of danger if things are getting too hot.

He is also key at set plays, keeps his younger teammates honest on the field and serves as the team's often vocal negotiator with officials.

"It is a big loss, of course, because it's very difficult to replace a player like Torsten," coach Aron Winter said Thursday. "Not just his quality, but his leadership."

On the plus side, Winter calls the injury "a little strain" and says Frings has never had hamstring issues before.

Winter also insists he has the personnel to survive Frings' absence but the job is complicated by the fact central defenders Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams are still recovering from long-term injuries.

Of course, if either was available, Frings might have been playing in midfield rather than defence.

That is moot now, however.

Canadians Julian de Guzman and Terry Dunfield appear to have been given the task of helping fill the Frings void.

The team has been practising both in a 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 formation, with de Guzman and Dunfield either alternating in the Frings role or sitting as holding midfielders.

"I think we'll know a lot more (Friday)," said de Guzman

De Guzman, who failed to get off the bench in the 3-1 loss to Seattle even when Frings went down, will lead the team out Saturday as captain.

That could mean Milos Kocic starts in goal again since Stefan Frei is the team's vice-captain. But Winter likes to leave his goalkeeping decision late.

De Guzman, who like Frings is one of Toronto's designated players, has played in the back four before — with Deportivo la Coruna in Spain and Hannover in Germany. But Toronto has used him as a defensive midfielder.

"I'm open to everything," he said.

Just one game into the MLS season, Toronto has already had somewhat of a wild start with success against the Los Angeles Galaxy in the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League followed by the season-opening defeat in Seattle and loss of Frings.

Add a trip to Cyprus with the Canadian national team for de Guzman, who is expected to play a key role in Canada's next phase of World Cup qualifying.

"I've kind of predicted that this season will be the busiest of my career," said the 30-year-old de Guzman.

Winter says he has no other fitness concerns, adding Cann could be back in a few weeks.

Toronto and San Jose swapped players last July with defender Nana Attakora, midfielder Jacob Peterson and forward Alan Gordon going to San Jose in exchange for Jamaican international forward Ryan Johnson, allocation money and an international player slot.

Peterson and Attakora have since moved on and Gordon is coming back from hip surgery.

Johnson, meanwhile, has been firing on all cylinders every since his arrival. He has slotted in nicely in Toronto's attacking trio, usually on the wing but also up front as needed.

"This is a good player, a very good player," Winter said.

Toronto's looming schedule crunch includes MLS games against San Jose, Columbus and Montreal as well as the two-legged CONCACAF Champions League semifinal against Mexico's Santos Laguna.

The Earthquakes, coached by former Canada manager Frank Yallop, are 1-1 after a 1-0 win over New England and 1-0 loss to Houston, both in San Jose.

San Jose outshot the Dynamo 22-8, giving up the lone goal of the game on a penalty.

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