Just three games into the MLS season, Toronto FC is dealing with injuries, supplemental discipline and a large target on its back.
Most pressing Tuesday were the results of a planned scan on Jermain Defoe’s sore hamstring. The England striker left Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake in the 61st minute, holding the back of his left thigh.
Manager Ryan Nelsen downplayed the injury but losing Defoe, who has all three of Toronto’s goals this season, for any time will be painful for all concerned.
“We’ll just have to wait for the scans to come back,” said Nelsen, declining to offer a prognosis on Defoe. “Hopefully it’s clear.”
Also absent from practice Tuesday were centre back Doneil Henry (knee), midfielder Jonathan Osorio (hamstring) and goalkeeper Julio Cesar (knee). Midfielder Michael Bradley is with the U.S. national team for its friendly Wednesday against Mexico in Glendale, Ariz., but should be back for Saturday’s game in Columbus.
Also worrying Nelsen is the fact that the MLS disciplinary committee may take a long look at captain Steven Caldwell’s studs-up tackle on Real Salt Lake midfielder Ned Grabavoy. The veteran centre back was yellow-carded on the play but could have seen red.
Brazilian midfielder Jackson was suspended for the RSL game after the disciplinary committee reviewed an elbow he threw at D.C. United midfielder Davy Arnaud the previous week.
So there are question marks over both starting central defenders. And Nelsen described Osorio, who missed the RSL game, as “very, very questionable.”
The good news is that Jackson returns from his suspension and Nelsen expects Cesar to recover from his goalmouth collision in Salt Lake.
“Hopefully, with a little bit of ice, he’ll be fine,” said Nelsen.
Defoe’s hamstring injury is not related to the one that sidelined him during his final days with Tottenham.
Nelsen suggested it is more to do with the travel and the artificial turf that his players are dealing with.
The team opened in Seattle, which plays on turf, and had to endure playing at altitude in Salt Lake City. Plus the team is practising on artificial turf under a bubble at its north Toronto training ground due to the elongated winter.
“It’s frustrating for us because we want to work on such much but it takes a toll playing on artificial (turf),” said Nelsen. “When players aren’t used to it as well, it impacts it even more.”
Nelsen has had to deal with players sidelined by injuries and other reasons since the start of a training camp that saw the introduction of as many as eight new starters including new designated players Defoe, Bradley and Brazilian striker Gilberto.
“I think it’s an abnormal amount but it’s an abnormal situation that we’re in,” Nelsen said. “We’ve got guys coming in from other leagues, guys coming in late because of visa issues, guys coming in (late) because of contract issues.
“So it was a very abnormal preseason ... Hindsight’s a lovely thing. We’d probably do a few things a wee but different.”
Nelsen suggested the loss to Real Salt Lake, while disappointing, was probably a lesson well learned for Toronto (2-1-0).
Thanks to its off-season spending spree, Toronto is no longer a league doormat. It is a scalp worth taking.
Toronto was comprehensively beaten by a veteran Real Salt Lake team.
“It was good for us in a way because this is what we’ve got to get used to,” Nelsen said. “Real Salt Lake was so up for the game. Every team’s going to be up for it now.
“We’ve got a bit of a target on our backs. Now we understand for real every single game that we have to play, we have to be up for.”
The loss also exposed a lack of depth. With Osorio and Jackson both missing in action, the side suffered.
Still Nelsen, whose team went 6-17-11 last season, was quick to point out that six points from a three-game stretch that included trips to Seattle and Salt Lake City was more than acceptable.
Toronto faces another stiff test Saturday against the unbeaten Crew (3-0-0).