Facing five games in 14 days, starting with their home opener Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes, 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 TFC's Major League Soccer season-opening loss to the Sounders 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," Winter said Thursday. "Not just his quality, but his leadership."
On the plus side, Winter called the injury "a little strain" and said Frings has never had hamstring troubles before.
Winter also insisted he has the personnel to survive Frings' absence but the job is complicated because central defenders Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams are still recovering from long-term injuries.
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, who failed to get off the bench in the 3-1 loss to Seattle even when Frings went down and 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.
The Canadian Press