Last week’s bye couldn’t have come at a better time for Toronto FC.
With several key starters carrying injuries, including top scorer Jermain Defoe and influential midfielder Michael Bradley, the week off allowed the Reds to rest and it bought them a little more time to recuperate ahead of their next match.
For the first time in weeks, coach Ryan Nelsen will have a full squad to choose from, save for midfielder Jeremy Hall (Achilles injury), when TFC hosts the New England Revolution on Saturday afternoon at BMO Field.
Here are three storylines to watch for in this match.
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Defoe back for TFC
After missing the last three games with a nagging hamstring injury, Defoe is fully fit again and expected to be back in the starting lineup against the Revs.
The former Tottenham striker got off to a blinding start in MLS, netting three goals in his first two outings before picking up an injury against Real Salt Lake on March 29. Since then, the Reds won in Columbus but lost their next two games, so they could use Defoe back in the starting 11.
“I’m 100 percent now,” Defoe confirmed to reporters earlier this week.
“I feel stronger than I was before. My season started in August, so I’ve played a lot of football. I just picked up a little hamstring injury, it was a case of just getting it strong again.”
It’ll be interesting to see how Defoe does after a lengthy absence—Willthis timing be off? Will he be rusty?—and whether or not he can pick up where he left off and resume what looked like a promising partnership with Gilberto.
Gilberto has yet to score in five appearances for TFC, with his best effort coming in the home opening win over D.C. United in March when he had a hand in setting up Defoe’s goal. Will a reunion with the Englishman finally spark the Brazilian into life and see him end his goal drought?
Defender Doneil Henry is also available for selection for Toronto on Saturday. The Canadian centre-back was outstanding in TFC’s opening two games of the season, but has missed the last three matches with a knee injury.
During his absence, captain Steven Caldwell has been partnered by Bradley Orr and the two have formed a formidable centre-half pairing. Normally a right back, Orr has put in commanding performances alongside Caldwell, giving Nelsen something to think about ahead of the New England game.
Conventional wisdom says that a player shouldn’t lose his place as a starter due to injury, and that once he’s healthy again he should return to the starting 11. But when you hit on something that’s working, especially an effective duo in the centre of defence, you shouldn’t mess with it.
So what will Nelsen do on Saturday? Stick with the defensive pair that’s been working the past few games? Or go back to Henry and see if he can return to the form he displayed earlier in the season before his injury?
Keeping an eye on Bunbruy
New England forward Teal Bunbury was largely ineffective through the first seven games of the season while lining up as the target man in a 4-3-3 formation.
Last week, Revs coach Jay Heaps deployed Bunbury, who was born in Hamilton, on the right side of the attack and he responded with his best outing of the campaign. Bunbury was lively for most of the match, carved out a number of chances for himself and netted the winner in injury time to lift New England to a 2-0 victory over Kansas City.
Lee Nguyen, who also scored against KC and has three goals this season, is another dangerous attacker that the Reds will have to keep close tabs on and try to shut down.
"New England is a good team," TFC midfielder Michael Bradley saif. "They have some talented attacking players who can cause you trouble if you're not organized or committed enough to close them down and making the game hard on them.
“Having said that, we're confident in who we are and what we're about. We've learned a lot about ourselves through these first six games and as we move into the next phase in the season, we feel ready."
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