TORONTO -- Very few players can fill Michael Bradley's shoes, but that was the big task given to Kyle Bekker on Saturday.
With the American designated player absent for Toronto FC, Bekker stepped into Bradley's role of midfield general as the Reds tried to overcome an injury bug that also claimed Canadian Jonathan Osorio. Bekker had started the season on the bench as Bradley and Osorio had the two central midfield spots locked up, but in the past two games he's played alongside and also filled in for Bradley, earning positive reviews from his coach and supporters along the way.
"I thought he was absolutely brilliant," Toronto head coach Ryan Nelsen said of Bekker after TFC's 1-0 loss to Colorado on Saturday. "He balanced off the attack well, most of the possession in the attack started from him, and he did a lot of stuff on the opposite side of the ball as well, which is something that he's brought into his game.
"It shows a little maturity in Kyle which we've been hoping to see, and he's been developing through his hard work."
Bekker spent much of last year riding the bench after being drafted third overall in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. A big reason for his lack of minutes last season was the form of Osorio, who had won the starting job after a strong preseason, and Nelsen's preference for strong two-way play in the midfield. It's something that had lacked in Bekker's game last year, but over the past two matches he's shown an increased ability to play both sides of the ball.
It's something that he's been working on, Bekker said, noting that he'll play anywhere the coach wants him to in order to climb the Toronto depth chart.
"[I] just keep building on each perfomance any chance I get," the 23-year-old said when asked what he needs to improve to win a permanent place in TFC's starting lineup. "In the past I've definitely played more attacking but I'm comfortable playing anywhere in the midfield, in centre mid.
"I just want to get on the ball and give the [team] balance and keep the team shape."
While he was tasked with filling the massive void caused by Bradley's absence in Saturday's loss, Bekker credits the American's presence for his own improvement, saying that the high bar set by Bradley in games and in training gives him something to strive for.
"It's just the little stuff," Bekker explained. "You might not see it all on camera but just every day in training, just the work rate, just the little things he does in the game makes the biggest difference. To see that first hand, it makes a big difference."
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