Danny Koevermans looks back at injury-plagued career with Toronto FC
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TORONTO - Danny Koevermans has Dec. 14 circled on his calendar. That's when the big forward takes his family back to the Netherlands.
Koevermans doesn't want to go. In fact he desperately wants to stay at Toronto FC to take care of unfinished business.
"I owe the franchise something. I owe the fans something," he said emotionally. "But it just didn't work out the way I wanted."
The die has been cast. Let down by his left leg, the star striker is history here.
After working 11 months to return from knee surgery, Koevermans has managed to play just 78 minutes this season.
The knee has been fine. But he has been betrayed by a recurring calf injury.
"It's not been what I've expected," he said.
The bottom line for No. 14 in two-and-a-half seasons in Toronto?
Seventeen goals on 43 shots on goal. He played in just 30 MLS games (22 starts) at a cost of something north of US$4 million.
The team's record when he played was 7-12-11.
And no one feels worse about it than Koevermans, who has said little publicly in recent weeks.
In an extensive interview this week with The Canadian Press, a classy Koevermans was alternately proud, sad, happy and full of regret in discussing his time with Toronto.
He hopes to play one more year in the Netherlands, keeping his fingers crossed that his body doesn't break down again.
He knows time is against him. While he looks lean and buff, he turns 35 on Nov. 1.
The injuries have been tearing him up. After yet another injury breakdown, he turned off his phone and left the training ground.
"I was a mess," he said.
Despite being "abandoned" by his left calf muscle, he has since tried to find some inner peace.
"What can I do. I've done everything to come back — here," he said.
On the record, club officials say all the right things about Koevermans' valiant efforts to return. But they have moved on.
Koevermans, along with former German international Torsten Frings, was introduced June 29, 2011, by Toronto FC.
"A massive step,'' Paul Mariner, then Toronto's director of player development, said at the time.
Due to red tape, the two new designated players had to wait until July 20 to make their debut in a 1-0 loss to FC Dallas at BMO Field.
Twenty-seven months later, only Koevermans, defender Doneil Henry and goalie Stefan Frei remain from Toronto's 18-man matchday squad that day. And Frei, whose contract is expiring like Koevermans', is also headed out the Toronto door.
Frings, Danleigh Borman, Dan Gargan, Ty Harden, Andy Iro, Milos Kocic, Joao Plata, Ryan Johnson, Maicon Santos, Nick Soolsma, Matt Stinson, Nathan Sturgis, Eddy Viator, Mikael Yourassowsky and Gianluca Zavarise have all moved on.
Koevermans initially said no when then-manager Aron Winter approached him in January 2011 about coming to MLS. A young Koevermans had played with Winter, then an aging star, a decade previously at Sparta Rotterdam.
Winter called again in May, at the end of his season. Koevermans thought he had a deal with a club in Europe but it fell through. So he said yes to MLS.
"Basically within nine days, it was done," he recalled.
The contract was so lucrative even Koevermans was surprised when he finally saw it. It allowed him to hold onto the house he owned in the Netherlands, the home he is now returning to.
Koevermans didn't even know what a designated player was until he heard he was one at the introductory news conference.
While their relationship cooled in the wake of Winter's firing in 2012, Koevermans remains grateful to his fellow Dutchman for bringing him to Toronto.
The striker also makes a point of thanking former assistant coach Bob de Klerk, (then MLSE COO) Tom Anselmi and Mariner, who followed Winter as coach. And he is quick to thank Toronto's training staff of Carmelo Lobue, Shawn Jeffers, Marcelo Casal and Nick Milonas for all the hours they invested in him.
"We worked so many hours together. And in the end it just didn't work."
Koevermans' job description in Toronto was simple from Day 1.
"I'm here to score goals," he said.
He potted eight in 10 games in his debut 2011 season, scoring goals from all angles and with every part of his body.
Rather than a artist who ranked each goal by beauty, Koevermans was a production-line scorer. Having scored one, he looked for another.
"I came here to prove something and to play soccer and to give this franchise something," he said. "And I started off great the first year. Awesome.
"I saw the Wall of Honour (at BMO Field) and I wanted to be there, next to Jimmy (Brennan) and Danny Dichio, I wanted to be there, score so many goals for this team. But the ACL ruined everything.
"And that's life. You don't know what's around the corner. That's unlucky. But I'm still healthy, I'm still breathing ... It's been a great experience for me.
"At least I've proven to people here that I could do it, that I don't think it was a waste of money even though I haven't played for a year and a half."
On and of the pitch, Koevermans has always been a straight shooter.
He made headlines during the disastrous start to the 2102 season after Toronto slipped to 0-9-0 following a loss to D.C. United.
"We're setting a record for the worst team in the world, man, and it's painful,'' Koevermans said at the time. "What can I say more? It's just the worst ever.''
Koevermans' previous teams had been winners. Playing for a loser was taking a toll.
The Dutchman took matters in his own hands when he came off the bench the next game. He beat Chris Konopka (now a teammate at Toronto FC) to score in the 88th minute and end the record slump with a 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union.
Koevermans was troubled by minor injuries at the start of the 2012 campaign. When he regained his health, he went on a roll and had nine of the team's 19 goals when he went down.
According to Opta, which tracks statistics, Toronto scored every 65.9 minutes during the 2012 season with the big Dutchman on the field.
Over the same stretch of the season when he hadn't played, they scored every 130.8 minutes.
His MLS career essentially lasted one calendar year, from July 2011 to July 2012 with 17 goals in 21 starts and 26 appearances.
Koevermans has more than a few dates etched in his mind.
There's July 14, 2012, when he wrecked his knee on the artificial turf at New England's Gillette Stadium.
And June 29, 2013, when he played 55 minutes against Real Salt Lake in the first start of his comeback after two short appearances as a substitute. An ankle knock signalled the start of a string of niggling injuries.
He played just five minutes as a substitute the next week, July 3, against Montreal. The Monday after, he pulled his calf in training.
He has made it back to training twice with the team but each time his calf has flared up.
He initially returned to action in a four-minute appearance as a substitute on June 1 against Philadelphia.
"I will always remember that feeling — the standing ovation of the crowd," he said. "But that's basically my highlight of the season, because anything else has just been disastrous."
And that moment was spoiled when Jack McInerney scored in stoppage time to give the Union a 1-1 tie.
He made his comeback in a reserve game on May 16 and said he felt great for six weeks until the Real Salt Lake game.
"Those were my finest hours," he said of the season.
Adding to his pain this season was the fact that his best friend on the team, Canadian midfielder Terry Dunfield, was dumped for salary cap reasons.
Koevermans' plan is to return home to his home near Eindhoven.
"Hopefully I will remain fit,. And then hopefully a team picks me up in Holland. And I'll sign until the end of the season. And then we'll see from there. If I still feel OK, maybe another year. Otherwise I'm going to retire."
"I can't finish like this," he added. "No chance."
A native of Schiedam, he began his pro career in 2000 with Sparta Rotterdam for whom he scored 71 goals in 110 appearances. He moved to AZ Alkmaar after the 2005 season, scoring 31 goals in 52 appearances. He played from PSV Eindhoven from 2007 to 2011.
Koevermans won four caps for the Dutch national team.
He is trying to staying positive about his calf.
"Because if I think it's not going to work, then it won't work."
Toronto will always have a special place in his heart.
Initially Koevermans and his family were put up in a condo but he quickly moved to the Beaches where he rented a house — a move he says was like "a winning lottery ticket."
"For me the way in life in Toronto has been awesome for me, great. And I love it. Honestly I want to love here forever. Because where I live, the Beaches, it's such a great place for the kids, for myself, for my wife.
"But sometimes decisions are made for you. And my calf made a decision for me the moment I pulled it again. After I did that, I just got home and said "Listen it's over. We're going back.'"
He had hoped to get one more year in Toronto.
Koevermans loves the fact that if leaves his house and turns south, he hits Lake Ontario, the beach and the boardwalks. If he goes north and east, he has his choice of the coffee shops, restaurants and stores on Queen Street.
And he loves Toronto, "because there's always something going on downtown, somewhere in the city."
At US$1,663,323.33 this season, Koevermans was one of eight MLS players making more than a million dollars. He admits the size of his paycheques has bothered him given the return on the dollar.
He even went to team management to ask to return next season, understanding he would no longer be a DP and would have to play for a vastly reduced salary.
But a fully guaranteed contract can be hard to come by in the league. Given his injury status, a semi-guaranteed deal was too uncertain for him.
"I honestly hope that my wife (Marijke) will say in the future 'I miss it, let's go back.' She says that. We're coming back."
His daughters, seven-year-old Esmee and five-year-old Isa also love Toronto.
"When I see the kids saying goodbye at school and stuff, it's going to be devastating," he said.
Neither girl spoke English prior to arriving — "only the colours, because I taught them, and the numbers one to 10," he said.
Today their English is "better than mine," said Koevermans, whose English is excellent.
The Dutchman will leave a fan of the Maple Leafs and Blue Jays and is already regretting the time difference between Europe and Toronto since it will make following such teams that much more difficult.
Koevermans says he could write a book about his time at Toronto.
In his 2 1/2 years, Koevermans says he has seen 54 players come and go.
"That's an insane number. I think that says it all," he said. "And again, at the start of next season, probably what will happen is they will bring in maybe 12, 13 new players, maybe more.
"Just hoping they are the right ones. And if it is not right again, it will just keep on going."
Koevermans retains a soft spot for Frings and fellow forward Ryan Johnson, later shipped to Portland.
"Ryan Johnson made my life easier on the pitch. Absolutely, I think we had a good partnership."
Mariner, a former striker himself, also has a special place in Koevermans' heart.
Koevermans will leave a fan of MLS, a league he says whose players are underestimated.
"This is a good league with good players," he said.
His wish list, however, would include getting rid of the salary cap or, at the least, increasing the minimum salary.
Watching a player like Toronto fullback Ryan Richter put in the same hours and effort as him for $35,125 just isn't fair, he says.
And while some bitch about travel in MLS, Koevermans gleefully recounts all the North American cities he has been able to visit. He has seen every MLS city with the exception of Salt lake City.
While Koevermans isn't pointing any fingers, he says hopes Toronto FC can finally turn it around.
"I remember in the pre-season, the gaffer said to a player 'How can you (only) win five games in a season? That's unbelievable. How can you win so few games.' Now we are one season later and again it's only five wins — with a last game coming, so hopefully it will be six."
"I'm not here to blame it on everyone," he said . "The record shows we didn't do it right (this year). I just hope one year they do it right."