Top scorer Defoe set to return for Toronto FC

Jermain Defoe. (Darren Calabrese/CP)

TORONTO – It looks as though Toronto FC will finally be getting its top marksman back.

Jermain 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 league contests with a groin strain. His previous appearance came in a 3-0 loss away to D.C. United on July 30.

Defoe took part in full training with his teammates on Tuesday, and coach Ryan Nelsen said he expects the English forward to play in the Reds’ home game against the Chicago Fire on Saturday.

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“He’s looking good. He’s blown out a couple of cobwebs and he’s looking as sharp as ever, which is all good,” Nelsen said of Defoe. “Hopefully he’ll be back this weekend. … I think he’ll be kicking down certain doors if he’s not on that field at some stage.”

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. Still, you’d have to think Defoe would start against Chicago if he’s available to play.

“Maybe it’s Jermain and Luke, or Jermain and Gilberto, or Gilberto and Luke. That’s what we’re trying to get, so that if we have injuries we don’t skip a beat,” Nelsen said. “Whatever pairing we have, we hope that we not skip a bit and maximize the best of their abilities.”

Some more good news for TFC on the injury front is that defenders Steven Caldwell and Mark Bloom are on the mend and close to returning. Caldwell, a central defender and the team’s captain, suffered a quad tear in July and has missed Toronto’s last seven matches. Bloom, a right back, has missed six games with an MCL strain.

Both players trained for the first time with the team on Tuesday since their suffering their injuries, and although Bloom felt somewhat limited in his movements, the defender believes he’ll be ready to play on Saturday.

“If everything goes well this week (in training) and I prove that I can be a starter and earn my spot, then I’ll be playing. If not, then maybe another week. But I feel really good,” Bloom told Sportsnet.

“I’m sure there’s going to be time when I catch it the wrong way and it stings a little bit. But ultimately it’s about getting your confidence back and just playing again. I haven’t played in four weeks, and just getting out there in training was fun.”

Nelsen, though, is taking a more “wait-and-see” approach about possibly using Bloom and Caldwell against Chicago.

“We’ll see how (it goes). Hopefully it’s all good and as the week progresses they don’t have any setbacks and get stronger and stronger,” Nelsen offered.

Right back Warren Creavalle, who sat out last week’s 4-1 road loss to Sporting Kansas City with a hamstring injury, didn’t train with the team on Tuesday. Nelsen said Creavalle is doubtful for Saturday’s game.

The pending returns of Defoe, Caldwell and Bloom would be a big boost for a Toronto side that is involved in a tight playoff race.

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.

The Reds face a challenging schedule in the coming weeks, with four games during a 15-day period, starting with Saturday’s tilt against Chicago—so the more hands on deck, the better.

Against Kansas City, with both 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.

“When everyone gets back fit, it’s going to be a lovely little problem to have. That’s what we’ve been shooting for,” Nelsen said.

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