Toronto FC continues to be hit hard by injury problems.
TFC coach Ryan Nelsen confirmed on Tuesday that central defender Steven Caldwell is expected to be sidelined for “a couple of weeks” with a quad injury. Left-back Justin Morrow will likely be out for three to four weeks with a hamstring injury.
Caldwell re-aggravated his quad strain in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against the Chicago Fire. TFC’s captain started the game after missing the previous seven contests, but he had to be subbed off midway through the first half. Morrow left the match early in the second half.
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Morrow has been one of the Reds’ best and most consistent players this season, appearing in 23 Major League Soccer games (22 as a starter) and leads all TFC players in minutes played with 1,957. Caldwell offers a physical and veteran presence to a back line featuring two youngsters in Doneil Henry and Nick Hagglund.
Nelsen admitted that the injuries to Caldwell and Morrow could lead to TFC making some player moves ahead of the league’s Sept. 15 roster free date. But the former New Zealand international also stressed the club is not in panic mode.
“The last four games we won two, lost one and drawn one. It’s not like we’re in a disaster zone. ... It’s not disastrous. For 85 percent of the games, we’re in control and looking very good. It’s just that last 15 and 10 [percent] that’s killing us,” Nelsen told reporters after Tuesday’s practice.
“Of course we’re always thinking about the injuries. In saying that, I have more than enough faith in all of the guys that are here.”
Nelsen admitted the absence of Morrow could result in more playing time for Ashtone Morgan. The 23-year-old Canadian was displaced by Morrow as the club’s starting left-back at the star of the current campaign. Morgan’s lone MLS appearance came in the season opener on March 15 against the Seattle Sounders when he was a second-half substitute.
“Everybody’s got has an opportunity now to potentially come in. When one door closes another one opens,” Nelsen offered.
Nelsen’s positive attitude notwithstanding, there’s no denying that the loss of two key starters in Caldwell and Morrow, who make up half of the back line, is a huge blow for a TFC side that is involved in a tough playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
Whereas Toronto once looked a solid bet to make the playoffs, now a post-season spot is far from a sure thing. TFC still sits in third place in the East and has games in hand—the top five in the conference make the playoffs—but the Reds’ lead isn’t quite as comfortable as it once was, with all four teams directly beneath them in the standings having gained ground last weekend.
What’s more, Toronto registered four clean sheets through the first 11 games of the season, with its last coming in a June 7 win over the San Jose Earthquakes. Since then, TFC has recorded just one clean sheet—against the last-place Montreal Impact—in 12 games. Nelsen’s men have given up a whopping 23 goals and earned just three wins in that stretch.
In Saturday’s draw with Chicago, the Reds again conceded what Nelsen called “soft goals,” including the 90th-minute equalizer to former TFC forward Quincy Amarikwa
“I don’t like conceding goals. I don’t want to concede goals. The goals that we’re conceding are very avoidable,” Nelsen stated bluntly.
“What we have to understand is that there are times in the game when you have to knuckle down and really defend ... and see out that little period until we get control of the game again. At the moment, we’re not seeing out those little periods.”
Defender Warren Creavalle, who has sat out the last two matches with a hamstring injury, is “starting to look reasonably good” according to Nelsen, and might be able to play in Saturday’s home contest against the New England Revolution.
The Revs sit in sixth place in the East, three points off the pace of TFC who have a game in hand.
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