When Lars Eckenrode suffered a broken leg, an “unfortunate…and serious injury,” in just his second game with Toronto FC II, the outpouring of support for the young defender from throughout the organization was immediate.
“I have a great training staff behind me and support from everyone,” Eckenrode said. “From the equipment manager to the president of the club, I’m on a first-name basis with everyone. I’ve had first team players come up to me and ask me what happened and ask about the surgery, all the support has been great.”
Before his time with Toronto FC, Eckenrode spent two seasons with AFC Ann Arbor of the NPSL while the defender attended the University of Michigan, where he spent four years. While Eckenrode is a central defender, he proved himself extremely capable offensively, scoring three goals and in addition, three assists in his time with the Mighty Oak. In his time at UM, the Wolverines recorded 18 clean sheets over four years.
Bilal Saeed, General Manager and Co-Owner of AFC Ann Arbor, emphasized the defensive side of Eckenrode’s game.
“When Lars is on the pitch, you feel a sense of security on the backline. He’s a special player and a stand-up guy, being the first of The Mighty Oak to push on to the MLS, he’ll be a part of our club’s history forever.”
While AFC Ann Arbor will always remember Eckenrode, the defender will always appreciate the club for several reasons.
“It was a great experience, the club and the staff are all very professional and it was great to stay in Ann Arbor over the summer and take classes.”
Following his senior season as a Wolverine, Eckenrode waited for his name to be called in the MLS SuperDraft. After waiting through the first day without being selected, the Springfield, Virginia native took a different approach to the second day.
“I remember I just went out and trained with my brother. I put my phone away and told myself ‘let the cards fall where they will.’” When Eckenrode checked his phone later that day, he saw a huge number of texts and phone calls, notifying him of his selection in the fourth round by Toronto FC.
“It was definitely a day I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Eckenrode said.
Eckenrode then went on to sign with Toronto FC and was assigned to Toronto FC II.
AFC Ann Arbor Sporting Director and Head Coach Eric Rundland will always remember Eckenrode’s signing with Toronto FC and is extremely proud of the alum.
“It was neat to see Lars handle himself as a professional during our NPSL season in 2016. He was very passionate about advancing to the next level so we are all very happy to see him have this opportunity.”
Following his signing with Toronto FC Eckenrode made his first professional appearance and start with Toronto FC II against Didier Drogba’s future club, Phoenix Rising. The game ended with a clean sheet and a 1-0 victory for the Reds.
Just one game later Eckenrode’s career would take an unfortunate turn as he left TFC II’s match against the Tampa Bay Rowdies with what would later be determined as a left leg break. Despite the tough beginning of his career, Eckenrode is preparing to do what it takes to recover and return to TFC II.
“Right now I just want to get back to training and eventually play with the first team. If things don’t work out in Toronto hopefully I can go somewhere else in the MLS or go to Europe, since I have a German passport.”
Even with a serious injury forcing Eckenrode’s career to take an unexpected turn, the NPSL alum is taking it in stride and making the best of it. With Eckenrode’s determination and positive mindset, coupled with his obvious skills as a defender, his professional career still has a very bright future.