Tuesday's news that Toronto FC captain Torsten Frings has officially retired thanks to a lingering hip injury brings an end to one of the most notable periods of TFC history. Some might be tempted to lump Frings in with other big names who didn't wind up working out with TFC, but that's not entirely fair; unlike past stars like Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman who didn't pan out in Toronto and eventually forced their way out of town, Frings was a consistently-effective contributor on the field when healthy, a solid leader and someone who only complained rarely despite dire circumstances. Unlike those others, his TFC tenure is ending on good terms. Still, while the end of the Frings era leaves new TFC president Kevin Payne with even more cap flexibility for his roster makeover, Frings' retirement may hurt TFC's on-field prospects this year, and it will certainly leave some Toronto fans wondering what could have been.
Frings is probably the most famous soccer player to ever suit up for a Toronto team, and he's one of the most notable athletes who's played for a Toronto team in any sport. He starred in Germany with Alemannia Aachen, Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, and he was a crucial part of the German national team's success at the 2006 World Cup and the 2008 European championships. He made 79 international appearances for Germany from 2001-2009, and while he never filled the scoresheet (he notched 10 goals during that time), he was a dynamic midfield presence adept at both winning the ball and setting others up. While he wasn't quite at the peak of his powers when he came to MLS, his 2011 signing in Toronto was still met with plenty of excitement, and he still brought a high calibre of play to TFC in 46 all-competition appearances across two years. Despite being limited by injuries, Frings was one of TFC's top performers in both the 2011 and 2012 seasons, even when he was used out of position to try and help the team's dreadful defence. As he was primarily used in a defensive role in Toronto, Frings only scored two goals with TFC, but they were both impressive. Here's one he notched last July against Vancouver:
The disappointing thing for TFC fans is that despite the Frings move being one high-profile signing that actually somewhat worked out, the team didn't get any better. In fact, 2012 saw some of the lowest moments in franchise history (which is saying something), including a record losing streak, a weird mid-season coaching change and a terrible 5-21-8 MLS record that put them last in the league and was even worse than their inaugural 6-17-7 campaign in 2007. As mentioned above, much of that isn't on Frings; his injury issues didn't help, but he was one of the team's top players when healthy. When a big-name move works well (and by comparison to the rest of TFC's big-name moves, the Frings move went very well) and your team's still that bad, though, that's not an easy pill to swallow.
Frings was still one of the team's most effective players, so the question of how they're going to replace him is an interesting one. His retirement leaves extra money to perhaps bring in a big name or two, but TFC's history is proof positive those moves don't always work. Frings is expected to stay involved with the club in some sort of scouting role, likely in Germany, so he may be able to assist in the team's future turnaround, though. While many TFC fans will likely be sad to see him hang up his cleats, they'll be hoping that the next era's better overall. Frings' personal contributions to TFC will be well-remembered, but the team's record during his tenure is something most fans would probably rather forget.