TORONTO – Three key starters for Toronto FC are expected to be back on the pitch in Saturday’s home game against the Chicago Fire.
Coach Ryan Nelsen confirmed that forward Jermain Defoe (groin strain), captain Steven Caldwell (quad strain) and fellow defender Mark Bloom (MCL strain) are all fit and available for selection.
Defoe, who leads the Reds in scoring this season with 11 goals in 15 Major League Soccer games, has sat out the club’s last three contests. His previous appearance came in a 3-0 loss away to D.C. United on July 30.
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Defoe admitted the groin injury still bothers him a little bit, but he’s ready to play against Chicago.
“I feel sharp. I`ve worked hard to come back but I feel good,” Defoe told reporters after Friday’s practice.
TFC hasn’t exactly been struggling for goals without Defoe, as they’ve found the back of the net six times in the three games he’s missed. Forwards Luke Moore and Gilberto have accounted for five of those goals, so Nelsen could start the pair against Chicago and bring Defoe off the bench.
“At the end of the day people can talk about combinations, whether it’s the left fullback and the left winger, but it’s about the whole team. As forwards we get judged on scoring goals. Gilberto is confident now because he’s getting his goals. Luke is a fantastic player, and maybe all three of us can play in the same team,” Defoe stated.
Nelsen admitted he is considering playing all three forwards in the starting 11, with Moore possible deployed as a winger.
“It’s an option for us. We know [Luke] can play on the wing,” Nelsen affirmed.
Caldwell missed Toronto’s last seven matches. Bloom has missed six matches.
TFC currently sits third in the Eastern Conference with 32 points. It has games in hand on Sporting Kansas City (42 points) and D.C. United (40), the two teams ahead of them in the standings) and on the New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union (27 points each), who are sixth and seventh. The top five teams in the East qualify for the playoffs.
Saturday’s affair is the first of a five consecutive games against Eastern Conference opponents, so this is an important run that could go a long way in determining the Reds’ playoff fate.
“I feel great. Good to be back out there. Totally refreshed and ready to go,” Caldwell stated. “It’s an important stretch for us to cement ourselves [as a playoff contender] and look forward rather than back.”
Look for Caldwell to start alongside either Doneil Henry or rookie Nick Hagglund in centre of defence against the Fire.
“It’s not a very good experience (being out injured). … I love playing and it’s the be-all and end-all of my week to have a game on the Saturday,” Caldwell said.
Bloom’s return could not have come at a better time for Toronto, who will be without defender Warren Creavalle (hamstring) and forward Andrew Wiedeman (back spasms) for Saturday’s game.
In last week’s 4-1 road loss to Sporting Kansas City, with Bloom and Creavalle unavailable, Nelsen was forced to start Jackson at right back. The Brazilian had a rough outing, as he conceded a penalty that led to the opening goal and he was exposed by Kansas City’s attacking players on several occasions.
Like Caldwell, Bloom is expected to start against Chicago.
“It’s definitely good that we can get some more bodies on the back line,” Henry said.
Before the injury, Bloom was one of TFC’s most consistent players this season. Having to watch from the sidelines for the last month or so was an excruciating experience for the Georgia native.
“It’s miserable. You almost work harder when you’re injured—you’re always in the gym, always working twice as hard, (so) it’s nice to be out there to (reap) the rewards of all the work I’ve done,” Bloom offered.
Defoe can relate.
“It was frustrating but there’s nothing I could do. You can’t play when you’re not 100 percent because you’re not doing anyone any favours,” Defoe said.
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