Team selection problems are piling up for Toronto FC coach Ryan Nelsen as star striker Jermain Defoe has been ruled out of the Reds’ road game versus the Columbus Crew on Saturday due to a hamstring injury.
Also, captain Steven Caldwell will be forced to sit out the Columbus contest after being handed a one-match ban by Major League Soccer’s disciplinary committee on Wednesday.
Defoe had scans earlier this week which confirmed he strained his hamstring in the Reds’ 3-0 loss away to Real Salt Lake last weekend.
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“He had the scan. It’s a slight strain, so I think he’ll be out for the short term. It’s not a major strain but (he’ll) be definitely unavailable this weekend,” coach Ryan Nelsen told reporters after Wednesday’s practice.
Nelsen declined to speculate on how long Defoe would be out.
“We’re not sure. We’ll see (how he is) in the next two or three days,” Nelsen said.
Defoe, 31, was one of the club’s three designated player acquisitions in the off-season along with Brazilian forward Gilberto and American midfielder Michael Bradley. The former Tottenham star has scored all three of the Reds’ goals through the first three games of the MLS season, so any prolonged absence will hurt TFC.
“Jermain has come in and one really well. But he got a slight strain, and we move on. That’s life,” Nelsen offered.
With Defoe unavailable, look for Dwayne De Rosario to take his place in the starting lineup up front alongside Gilberto versus Columbus, although Nelsen explained he has other options, including recently-acquired Canadian midfielder Issey Nakajima-Farran, Brazilian winger Jackson, and Andrew Wiedeman.
Another player who will sit out Saturday’s game is Caldwell. The veteran defender was issued a yellow card for his late tackle on Ned Grabavoy on Saturday but was handed an additional one-game ban and ordered to pay an undisclosed fine on Wednesday.
“What I find hard to understand is that the referee has already seen and dealt with it. So I don’t know why the league needs to get involved, to tell you the truth because you start to undermine the referees if you do this,” Nelsen opined.
“Once you start overturning decisions the referees have made, then it becomes a slippery slope… so then every single decision in every single game can be slowed down and brought to their attention.”
Nelsen later added: “I don’t even know why they’re even having a look at (Caldwell’s foul).”
MLS rules stipulate that the disciplinary committee can take supplemental action against a player, even if he was issued a yellow or red card on the field, if it feels “the play in question is of an egregious or reckless nature.”
This is the second time in as many weeks that the committee has handed down a suspension to a TFC player after the fact. Jackson was suspended for the Real Salt Lake game after elbowing D.C. United’s Davy Arnaud during the Reds’ home opener the previous week.
For his part, Caldwell admitted it was a bad tackle, but he didn’t think it warranted a suspension.
“I’ve seen it back, and it doesn’t look good,” Caldwell told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s definitely a booking. I’ll take my booking. I accept my punishment. I just see it as a guy trying to win the ball and being a little bit late. … I went in to win the ball, like I do every single challenge. I’ve never been a dirty player; I’ve never had any problems with discipline in my career.”
Nelsen has other selection issues to deal with, as he confirmed that defender Doneil Henry (knee) and midfielder Jonathan Osorio (hamstring) are questionable for Saturday’s game. Neither player trained with the team on Tuesday. Nelsen also said that left back Ashtone Morgan has a minor hip problem.
The potential loss of Henry poses a very big problem for TFC, especially with Caldwell already ruled out, as Nelsen would not be able to call upon his two starting central defenders. Backups Gale Agbossoumonde, Ryan Richter and rookie Nick Hagglund have yet to see any action for Toronto this season.
Toronto opened the season with a road win over the Seattle Sounders and a victory versus D.C. United before losing in Utah.
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