The injury list keeps growing for Toronto FC and manager Ryan Nelsen says management has to make changes next year.
Striker Jermain Defoe, defender Doneil Henry and midfielders Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio were just some of the players who missed practice Tuesday. Midfielders Dwayne De Rosario, Alvaro Rey and Kyle Bekker, who like Bradley all played in Saturday’s 2-0 win in Columbus, are also hurting ahead of this weekend’s visit by the Colorado Rapids.
“Just name the healthy ones. It’s a lot quicker,” Nelsen joked after practice Tuesday.
On a more serious note, he confessed: “There’s a chance that quite a few might miss (Saturday’s game).”
That includes the influential Bradley, who is nursing a “couple of little strains” after a week that included games for both the U.S. and Toronto, with the accompanying travel.
“We’re just putting him on ice,” Nelsen said of his absence Tuesday.
A severe winter that has kept the MLS team practising on artificial turf under a bubble at its well-appointed north Toronto training centre has been part of the problem. The club was able to train on grass in early March last year.
A demanding schedule to open the 2014 season also hasn’t helped. Three of Toronto’s four games to date have been away, with one on Seattle’s artificial turf and another at altitude in Salt Lake City. The one home game was played on a poor grass surface thanks to the ravages of winter.
“It takes it out (of you),” said Nelsen. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons over this, the staff. In hindsight, would we do some things differently? I definitely would.
“So as management, we’ve got to hold our hands up for that. Some of the injuries are just the life of a football professional, you can’t do much about it. But we have learned a lot through this. Hopefully once we get out on the grass it will be a lot easier for the guys.”
Nelsen, who did not detail the changes he wants to see, hopes that the players will be able to practise outside by the end of the week.
Toronto brought in 10 new players this season, of which seven have made their way into the starting lineup.
England striker Defoe, U.S. international midfielder Bradley and Brazilian forward Gilberto — all new designated players — have been joined by Brazilian goalie Julio Cesar and midfielder Jackson plus English defender Bradley Orr and American fullback Justin Morrow at the club this season.
While coaches want to get everyone on the same page in the wake of such turnover, they have also had to watch to make sure the players don’t get overtaxed given the demanding conditions.
“It’s a bit of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of scenario,” said Nelsen.
Defoe and Osorio have both been dealing with hamstring issues.
“We’ll see,” Nelsen said when asked if Defoe might return to action this weekend. “He’s still progressing really well ... Hopefully he’ll be close.”
Osorio, who has missed the last two games, is also improving, he added.
Henry is recovering from a jarred knee suffered two weeks ago in the 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake while De Rosario took a knock to the ankle in Columbus.
Because of injuries and suspension, Nelsen has been forced to chop and change his lineup each week. His club is winning — with a 3-1-0 record, Toronto is off to its best start — but the list of walking wounded continues to grow.
Toronto was without four starters in Columbus with Defoe, Osorio and Henry injured and defender/captain Steven Caldwell suspended.
The team is closely monitored, with at least one staff member walking off the pitch with a laptop at the end of each session. Players get special drinks as they exit the training field. Some head to a brief post-training gym session while others settle in an ice bath.
The good news might be that Toronto, after being hit with two retroactive suspensions by the league’s disciplinary committee, seemed to avoid controversy on the field in Columbus.
“It’s only Tuesday, they’ll find something,” Nelsen joked.
While citing artificial turf as part of the problem, Nelsen says has no problems with a hybrid field.
“I’ve played on those. ... I think that will be the way of the future.”
It is in TFC’s future if ownership goes ahead with a planned renovation of BMO Field. The blueprint calls for the installation of a hybrid surface, with just 10 per cent of the artificial turf above ground. The rest is below the surface, giving the roots of the real grass more stability.
Replacing the artificial turf with a hybrid surface on the field under the bubble at the training centre would seem one obvious move to ease the early-season wear and tear on players.
Henry and Bekker have both caught their studs on artificial turf this season, jarring their knees.
NOTES — Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen says speculation that Toronto may be after U.S international Brek Shae, whose career has seemingly stalled at England’s Stoke City, are “just rumours.” But he didn’t shut them down. And Toronto does currently hold the first allocation pick, meaning it has first crack at a player returning to MLS. Nelsen also noted he has a good relationship with Stoke manager Mark Hughes.