Danny Koevermans could be back for real next week and not a moment too soon for Toronto FC.
The 34-year-old Dutch striker, who has been out for 10 months due to left knee surgery, is targeting the June 1 game against the visiting Philadelphia Union for his return.
He played 45 minutes last Saturday in a reserve game against the Columbus Crew.
“It felt great, like a little kid again,” he said after practice Tuesday. “I’m so happy just to move around, touch some balls. It was a great feeling, although it was a bad day because we lost to Columbus. But for me personally, it was a victory after 10 months hard work.”
Toronto FC, in dire need of a spark, can’t wait to get him back.
Only D.C. United (1-8-2) has a worse record than Toronto (1-6-4).
TFC has lost four straight in the league and is winless in nine. The club has just two wins in 13 outings in all competitions this season. So far this month, Toronto has been outscored 10-1 in four losses, three in the league and one in the Amway Canadian Championship.
The league’s own power rankings have Koevermans’ team currently ranked last among its 19 teams.
Koevermans has been out since tearing his ACL last July in a game at New England. Toronto has gone 2-16-8 in league play since and been outscored 43-25.
The big Dutchman, a streaky scorer, has 17 goals in 26 career MLS games, which includes 21 starts. His nine goals last season included a five-game scoring streak.
On a contract that will pay him$1.663-million (U.S.) this season, Koevermans is one of the league’s elite players. He is also one of its most grounded.
After making the decision to come to Toronto as a designated player, he went all in on Canada, moving his family here and exploring his new surroundings.
He says his long absence from soccer has made him appreciate every second of what he does.
“Once you’re injured then you find out how good a life it is to be a soccer player,” he said. “I complained and struggled during my time in Holland and now I’m like why did I complain so much?
“It’s nonsense. Because the moment you’re out, then you see how much you love this game.”
Manager Ryan Nelsen watched Koevermans closely in the reserve game and liked what he saw.
“I’m really looking forward to Danny being back,” said the former New Zealand defender. “He’s still a couple of weeks away. We’ll get him working on his finishing and his sharpness but Danny’s one of those players that the ball just seems to find.
“You used to hate coming against those players when you played against them because it just seems to ricochet off everything and land at his feet. ... And he’s strong and he’s looking fit. He’ll be a valuable asset.”
And a much-needed one, given that Toronto has managed just 11 goals in 11 league games.
Welsh striker Robert Earnshaw has five goals but hasn’t scored since April 13. Justin Braun has two goals but has been slowed by injury. New Zealand international Jeremy Brockie has only just arrived on the scene.
With goals hard to come back, mistakes or missed opportunities have cost Toronto dearly. All six league losses have come by one goal, leaving Nelsen to wonder what might have been had his team taken its chances at the attacking end and tightened up on defence.
Koevermans, when scoring, provides a buffer.
“He’s a big boy and he’s a big presence up there,” Nelsen said.
Koevermans’ personal schedule is a little more accelerated than Nelsen’s. He says he is skipping this weekend’s game because it is on the plastic turf of the New England Revolution where he suffered the injury.
“I’m good to go,” he said.
“The week later, it’s Philly at home so hopefully the coach uses me then,” he added.
The six-foot-three Koevermans had escaped serious injury earlier in his career, saying six or seven weeks was his previous longest stint on the sidelines.
So close to returning, he can hardly wait. Koevermans is like a little boy on Christmas Eve.
“I’m already sad that training’s over today because I want to be back tomorrow,” he said. “I want to train again.
“It’s been hard, but not too hard because the moment I did it, I knew it would be nine, 10 months (out).”
After the injury, friends reached out quickly. Dutch midfielder Ibrahim Afellay, an FC Barcelona player on loan to Germany’s Schalke 04, was quick to call and share memories of his own recovery from ACL surgery.
“So I knew what was coming,” said Koevermans, who called the first two weeks after surgery “horrible.”
But everything came back in time.
He had expected to miss the first 10 games of the 2013 season. If he makes into the field for the Philadelphia game, Koevermans will have been off by three games.
And he says he could have been back sooner had it not been for the weather in Toronto, which kept the team training on turf under the bubble until conditions improved.
“I think I’m right on schedule. It sucks that the next game is in Boston,” he said.
While happy to be back, Koevermans understands that pressure awaits.
“It’s all about winning games and, as a striker, scoring goals,” he said.
If he is slow off the mark, he knows “people will say ‘Oh he doesn’t score goals anymore.“’
“We’ll see what happens. I’m just happy to be fit again. I’m trying to help the team.”