Toronto FC fans get a chance to see what life will be like during the World Cup, with no Michael Bradley and likely no Julio Cesar, as the New York Red Bulls come to town Saturday.
The supporters will also see Jermain Defoe in action for the first time since being left off England’s 23-man World Cup roster. Five days on, it’s clear that the 31-year-old Defoe believes he deserves to be on the plane to Brazil.
Defoe is baffled — and motivated.
Bradley has already left the MLS club to join the U.S. national team. Cesar was slated to join Brazil next week but is unlikely to play this weekend because of the flu.
Toronto will also be without Brazilian midfielder Jackson, who is dealing with a concussion suffered in the last league match against New England.
The good news is Toronto (3-4-0) has been preparing for life without its World Cup talent. And the team got a big break when England decided to leave Defoe on its seven-man standby squad.
Defoe and captain Steven Caldwell did not play in the midweek Amway Canadian Championship semifinal in Vancouver as manager Ryan Nelsen elected to protect them from the artificial turf at B.C. Place Stadium and rest them for New York (3-3-5).
Asked if he was at peace with the England decision, Defoe spoke from the heart.
“No I don’t think I’ll ever be at peace,” he said after practice Friday. “If I had an injury then I could sort of like understand it, and I could hold my hand up and say, ‘Well you miss out by injury and it’s not meant to be.’
“But in my head, it’s sort of baffling a little bit. I don’t really understand it. But again it’s always important to remain positive and just keep doing what I’m doing because at the end of the day I get judged on playing football and that’s it.”
Defoe tried to downplay suggestions of a chip on his shoulder or playing well to prove people wrong.
“I don’t think I’ll be thinking I need to prove to the (England) manager that I should be there,” he said.
“Because I think I’ve done that throughout my career really. I’ve always worked hard.”
Defoe is still confused by being consigned to the taxi squad.
“When you’ve been involved in every squad and then the World Cup comes around and you’re not in the 23, it’s hard to take because you can’t understand it. But like I said just remain positive. Yeah, it does motivate you more because you go out there and you get the fire in your belly again and I suppose you do prove people wrong.”
Defoe, a member of the 2010 World Cup squad, has not given up on Brazil. He knows he could still join Roy Hodgson’s squad although he was quick to say he did not want to see any player miss their dream due to injury.
“A lot of things can happen,” he said. “Obviously as a player, you want to be in that 23 and especially when you feel like you deserve to be in that 23.”
Defoe said Hodgson basically told him “the young players have done well,” presumably referring to 23-year-old Danny Welbeck of Manchester United and 24-year-old Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool. The other strikers in the England 23 are 28-year-old Wayne Rooney of Manchester United and 32-year-old Rickie Lambert of Southampton.
Defoe is joined on the standby squad by 25-year-old West Ham striker Andy Carroll.
There will be plenty of former English Premier League attacking talent on display Saturday, with two of the best strikers ever to suit up for their North London teams on the pitch at BMO Field.
Defoe scored 153 goals for Tottenham while Red Bulls star Thierry Henry potted 228 for Arsenal. New York also boasts English forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, who leads MLS with nine goals this season.
Wright-Phillips, who has good chemistry with Henry, has scored eight times — including two hat-tricks — in his last four games.
Toronto acquired holding midfielder Collen Warner from Montreal on Friday in a deal to add to its midfield depth. He faces a one-game suspension after being sent off for handball last weekend so his Toronto debut will have to wait.
In goal, Joe Bendik gets another shot if Cesar can’t go.
A former No. 1 who has been shunted to a backup role with the acquisition of Cesar, the 25-year-old Bendik accepted his change in fortunes with grace and professionalism. He now counts Cesar as a friend and says he is a better goalie having worked with the Brazilian, whose glittering resume includes five Italian league titles and seven cups, the Champions League Cup, and the FIFA Club World Cup.
The team traded for English striker Luke Moore last week, for more depth up front.
The Red Bulls are coming off a horrendous defensive display in a 5-4 loss to the previously winless Chicago Fire.
New York is losing fullback Roy Miller (Costa Rica) and midfielder Tim Cahill (Australia) to the World Cup.