Injury-hit Toronto FC limps into Montreal

Toronto FC coach Ryan Nelsen. (CP)

TORONTO – The injuries keep piling up for Toronto FC.

Already without Canadian midfielder Terry Dunfield (knee problem), as well as defenders Richard Eckersley and Darrel Russell (both hamstring) and Logan Emory (ankle), the Reds have added winger Hogan Ephraim and forward Justin Braun (both ankle) to its growing list of wounded.

Ephraim and Braun picked up their injuries in last weekend’s 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls in a Major League Soccer regular season contest.

Wednesday programming alert: Watch Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC (live on Sportsnet ONE at 7:30pm ET/4:30pm PT) and Vancouver Whitecaps vs. FC Edmonton (live on Sportsnet ONE at 10:00pm ET/7:00pm PT) in the second leg of the Canadian club championship semifinals.

The Reds will be without all six players on Wednesday when they visit the Montreal Impact in the second leg of the Canadian club championship semifinals. TFC won the opening fixture 2-0 last week at home, and can clinch a spot in the tournament final with a win or draw, or even a 1-0 loss.

The absence of the aforementioned six players will test Toronto’s depth, but coach Ryan Nelsen believes he has enough quality to endure and prevail.

“We’re getting a bit thin in terms of numbers but whoever comes out and plays, I’m more than confident in them,” Nelsen told reporters after Tuesday’s practice.

In the first leg, Nelsen made wholesale changes to his lineup, giving the night off to several key starters including leading scorer Robert Earnshaw, captain and defender Darren O’Dea, midfielder Jeremy Hall and goalkeeper Joe Bendik.

With so many injuries, Nelsen doesn’t have as many options as he’d like, which means some of the players who didn’t feature in last week’s win over Montreal might be called into duty on Wednesday.

“I’m playing my strong team that I think is going to win,” Nelsen stated. “I don’t care if it’s the World Cup you’re playing for or if it’s a clump of dirt. Every team we put out for Toronto we try and win games.”

Montreal coach Marco Schällibaum also didn’t dress several of his starters, but his side is the one that faces a 2-0 deficit going into the return leg. Nelsen expects Schällibaum will field a much stronger starting 11 this time around.

“I know Montreal will be coming out all guns blazing, they’ll play their strongest team possible and I know their fans will be right behind them. It’s a great test for us,” Nelsen said.

“Their pride was hurt last (week) and I think they’ll be going out with their strongest team possible.”

After Wednesday’s game, TFC hits the road for two MLS games against the Colorado Rapids (May 4) and San Jose Earthquakes (May 8). Emory and Russel could travel with the team for those matches, but Nelsen said Eckersley is “still a bit off” from returning to action.

Dunfield recently told that he will likely be available for selection again after the West Coast road trip.

Nelsen revealed that Argentine midfielder Matias Laba, signed by the club last week, will travel to Montreal for the game. Whether the Argentine will see any playing time against the Impact depends on if he’s cleared after undergoing required examinations and tests by the team’s medical staff.

If Toronto gets past Montreal, they’ll play the winner of the other semifinal between the Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Edmonton in the two-legged final on May 15 and 29. The Whitecaps won the opener 3-2 in Edmonton last week.

Montreal won the inaugural Canadian championship in 2008. Toronto has won the last four.

As always, the tournament winner will represent Canada in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League.

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