With four players set to depart on international duty next week, Toronto FC is providing the biggest one-team contribution to Canada’s participation in next month’s Gold Cup tournament It’s not a distinction head coach Ryan Nelsen is particularly happy with.
TFC hosts Real Salt Lake, the top team in the Western Conference at BMO Field on Saturday before welcoming the Montreal Impact, the best team in the Eastern Conference, on Wednesday.
But after Saturday’s game, defenders Doneil Henry and Ashtone Morgan and midfielders Kyle Bekker, and Jonathan Osorio head to California to prepare for Canada’s first game of the Gold Cup that doesn’t take place until next Friday.
While the international callups aren’t breaking any rules, the TFC staff was hoping that the Canadian Soccer Association was a little bit more flexible with the timeframe of the players’ departure.
“Thanks to the Canadian team they’ve taken four of our players and a coach as well without even a thank you,” said a frustrated Nelsen after the team trained on Friday. “Other teams are complaining that they’re releasing one player but we’ve got four so unfortunately it’s the problem we’re in.”
TFC head scout Pat Onstad is already in California helping the Canadian team. A Toronto FC official confirmed that the CSA asked if Onstad could help.
The four players won’t leave until Tuesday to link up with the Canadian team. But with the game in Montreal taking place 24 hours later, TFC was just hoping for a little more give-and-take from the CSA, who they feel could be a bit more accommodating.
Nelsen said he had hoped they could have kept any two players for the Montreal game, but to this point they haven’t been able to reach anyone from the CSA.
“What’s frustrating is we let Canada soccer use our facilities, we give them a coach, we try to develop as many young players as we can,” said Nelsen. “All we’re asking for is one day that we can keep a couple of them but unfortunately it’s one-way traffic. We’ll have to live with that. That’s life, I suppose.”
Osorio, who’s been one of few TFC bright spots this season, earned his first cap in May when Canada lost 1-0 in a friendly to Costa Rica in Edmonton.
Osorio was signed right before the start of the season and has played his way into the national team picture. Now included in the Gold Cup squad, Osorio was diplomatic when asked about this club versus country tussle.
“I don’t want to leave the team,” Osorio said. “I want to help the team this month and there are going to be a lot of games this month – a lot of important games – but it’s an honour to play for your country and I’m very excited to see what we can do at the Gold Cup.”
Toronto heads into Saturday’s game riding a modest three-game unbeaten run but are still without a win at BMO Field. Their only home win came when they beat Sporting Kansas City at the Rogers Centre earlier this season.
Leading scorer Robert Earnshaw didn’t train with the team on Friday. His status is questionable due to a calf injury.
That means designated player Danny Koevermans could be in line for his first start since recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last season. Koevermans scored twice in a reserve game on Wednesday in Montreal and looked sprightly in training on Friday, scoring a few times with both his head and his feet.
“I’m excited and a bit nervous. That’s what I always have for a game,” Koevermans said. “So I still have today, get prepared for tomorrow and maybe I’ll start.”
Former TFC player Joao Plata will make his first appearance in Toronto since leaving prior to this season. He’s part of a Salt Lake franchise that comes into Toronto looking for their first win ever at BMO Field.
If Toronto wants to keep that unbeaten run against Salt Lake intact, they’ll have to overcome their penchant for conceding goals late in games. Toronto has conceded tying goals in the last 10 minutes at home three times this season, and Toronto once conceded late when it would have salvaged a tie.
“It’s just important for the club to get some wins and that’s the only thing we need,” said Koevermans. “We’re on a good streak now – two games unbeaten on the road – so hopefully we get a win at BMO because it’s been a while.”