Toronto FC flashback: A great start in net with Greg Sutton

CARSON, CA - APRIL 10: Back-up goalkeeper Greg Sutton #24 of the New York Red Bulls looks on during warm-up prior to their MLS match against Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center on April 10, 2010 in Carson, California. Chivas USA defeated the Red Bulls 2-0. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
CARSON, CA - APRIL 10: Back-up goalkeeper Greg Sutton #24 of the New York Red Bulls looks on during warm-up prior to their MLS match against Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center on April 10, 2010 in Carson, California. Chivas USA defeated the Red Bulls 2-0. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images) /

Tip of the Tower starts a new series in order to gather some nostalgia on former Totonto FC players. This post shows nothing but appreciation for the Reds’ first starting keeper.

Back when Toronto FC had absolutely no expectations within the MLS standings, it only meant it was a time for players to stand out and make a name for themselves. Luckily for a few players on the 2006-07 TFC squad, household names were already brought in to continue to improve personal careers on the pitch, while moving the franchise in the proper direction.

Greg Sutton was one of those players, even if he seems a bit under the radar in today’s game. Sutton is a name most Toronto FC fans let slip into the back of their minds, but it really shouldn’t. Sutton not only did so much for Toronto moving forward, but he did wonders for Canadian football in general.

A lot of what Sutton went down for in his career revolves around and starts with the Montreal Impact. The now 41-year-old spent five seasons with the Blues in a time when they were in the USL. Sutton thrived from it by collecting MVP awards, team recognition and amazing stats.

Sutton quickly came on the scope of Canada’s international surface. Rising through the development teams of Canada, he was quickly able to make an impact internationally that would help set him up for success in his domestic career.

The goalie’s second senior start came against Northern Ireland, where he kept a 1-0 clean sheet. From there, Sutton went on to play in three Gold Cups with his country.

The combination of what Sutton did for the Impact and early on for Canada surely helped raise his value in the market. The Reds acquired Sutton to their new expansion squad which meant a return to MLS for the keeper, but it was meant to be, at least for the beginning of his new chapter.

The Hamilon native only played in nine fixture, before a concussion during a Gold Cup run with the Canadians kept him out for the rest of the 2007 season. It’s a big reason TFC decided to go with Brian Edwards in net to start off the 2008 campaign, but Sutton would quickly make his comeback.

A series of impressive performances from Sutton helped him become an All-Star selection during the 2008 season. It helped him stay in between the pipes for a total of 24 fixtures, with over 2,000 minutes played that year.

The Ontario man was often left alone with a struggling back-line at the time. Shots came from all over the pitch, and Sutton needed to be at the top of his game.

To go along with the playing time, Sutton posted a 7-10-7 record for the North back in 2008, which was very moving considering the competitive level of expansion squads at the time. Sutton added a remarkable 116 saves that season.

Sutton crafted his own playing technique with the Reds. He had an incredible balance of when to stay back, versus when to be aggressive. His long-reach would help him tag long-distance shots, while his brilliance to track the ball made him arguably one of the best one-on-one keepers MLS has seen.

Penalties were another form of art from Sutton. More often than not, the former Chicago Fire keeper would push off his line just as the shot would come, in order to give the penalty taker a fright and a seemingly smaller net. It’s a tactic that seems to have been revived by the likes of Alex Bono in today’s game.

It was yet another season where Sutton made a name for himself for both his club and country. Creating new ways to see the game in such an important position for an expansion team showed brilliance, confidence and composure.

Yet, another thing that was starting to show with Sutton was age. The following season would have been another starting one with the Reds, but highly rated prospect Stefan Frei got the nod instead.

In a one-on-one interview with CBC Sports back in the 2009 season, Sutton noted he was fine with where he was at, but something between the lines said that he wanted to do more:

"“I know my abilities. I’m confident in my abilities and if I’m called upon to step in I’ll be ready to play.“As hard as it is to watch the game from the sidelines, I have to understand that I’m doing something that I’m getting paid to do. This is my career and it’s a livelihood for myself and my family, so I have to be positive because if I don’t, I’m doing an injustice to myself, my family and I may lose this opportunity.”"

Unfortunately for Sutton, Toronto FC was ready to move on before he seemed to want to from his previous role. Frei, of course, fulfilled his role of being a highly touted prospect in the North American game at the Seattle Sounder, helping the franchise become a world-known club.

As for Sutton, he would soon find himself sold to New York to play with a dangerous Red Bulls squad. It was rumored that the move was to make room for young players like Nick Garcia who turned out to flop, but unhappiness with reality may have kicked in.

The 6 foot 6 keeper would spend his next two years in New York, while finishing off his professional career right back where he started in Montreal.

Why Sutton was Important to TFC

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Sutton made the absolute most of a new situation that he was put in. A new light after a dominating run with the Impact in the early portions of his career saw him bring new and innovative ideas to the table.

He was an entertaining goalkeeping to watch. The Reds would need him a lot to provide some difficult saves, and he did that and more.

It not only gave the city of Toronto a sense of what genius goalkeeping is, but it helped them frame expectations for the ideal number one in red. Sutton provided the perfect time gap, that led to the likes of Frei and many more, all the way to Bono right now.

He gave Canadian football a flash. Sutton provided for his country and club in times when the game was severally unpopular within the country.

Whether it was long-term or short-term, Sutton had an impact on Toronto FC, Canada and MLS. He now supports youth football today by coaching the Concordia University Stingers, further progressing his mark on the game of football for years ahead.

Next: No need to criticize Michael Bradley

What are your thoughts on Sutton’s time with Toronto FC? How did he change the scope of the Reds in such a short time? Are there any incredible memories you have of the keeper? Let us know in the comments section below!