TFC’s fringe players get a chance vs. Spurs

Jermain Defoe admits that it'll be strange lining up on the opposite field from former teammates and friends on Tottenham as he prepares to face them in a friendly with Toronto FC.

TORONTO – Wednesday’s international friendly between Toronto FC and Tottenham is a special occasion for Jermain Defoe.

TFC’s season scoring leader spent close to 10 years over two stints at the English Premier League club before joining the Reds prior to the current MLS campaign. Wednesday’s clash at BMO Field is a chance for Defoe to lock horns against some of his former teammates, but don’t expect to see him play a full 90 minutes.

The same goes for Michael Bradley, Justin Morrow and a number of Toronto’s regular starters. No. 1 goalkeeper Joe Bendik? He’ll likely be given the night off and probably won’t even dress.

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With an unlimited number of substitutions at his disposal, Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen will limit the minutes of his starters and rely heavily on a number of his fringe players against Spurs. With heavy schedule ahead for TFC—they’re slated to play seven MLS games between now and the end of August—playing your “B” team only makes sense.

“Everybody’s going to get minutes,” Nelsen told a news conference on Tuesday. “We’ve got a few injuries. We’ve got guys who have played a lot recently that won’t play.

“This is a chance for a lot of the guys who haven’t seen many minutes in the league games to stake a claim—and what better way (than to) play well against a world-class team.”

Among the names: goalkeeper Chris Konopka (who has yet to play a single minute in 2014), and defender Ashtone Morgan, midfielder Kyle Bekker and forwards Andrew Wiedeman and Dwayne De Rosario (who have a combined 23 appearances between them). Morgan’s lone appearance came in the first game of the season on March 15 as a last-minute sub.

Konopka has had to patiently bide his time. He was relegated to the third-string goalkeeping position after the Reds signed Julio Cesar on loan in pre-season. Bendik has started every game since Cesar joined Brazil’s national team fulltime in May ahead of the World Cup.

“It’s great to have these games, especially for guys like myself and (others) that aren’t getting too many minutes. A few of us have been looking forward to this for a bit,” Konopka admitted.

Nelsen has also recalled several players out on loan—forward Jordan Hamilton, goalkeeper Quillan Roberts and midfielder Jeremy Hall (Wilmington Hammerheads of the third-tier USL-Pro league) and defender Ryan Richter (Ottawa Fury of the second-tier NASL)—so that they can see some action against Spurs.

Richter said he is enjoying his loan spell in Ottawa and that he hasn’t had any discussions with Nelsen about possibly returning to Toronto. He’s hoping a strong showing against Spurs might give Nelsen something to think about.

“Anytime you get on the field, and anytime you get a chance to play in front of the coaches, teammate and fans is an opportunity to prove yourself. That’s what (this game) is,” Richter stated.

Konopka and Roberts will likely split time in net against Spurs. Roberts, still only 19, is coming off back-to-back shutouts for Wilmington, earning USL-Pro player of the week honours in the process. Hamilton has also done well at Wilmington—the 18-year-old forward leads the team in scoring with five goals in 11 games.

“I’m getting more minutes (at Wilmington) than I would be getting here—that’s the whole point of it… I hope I get (to play against Spurs). It’d be an amazing experience. I’d just be humbled to get to play against Tottenham,” said Jordan, who went on trial with Tottenham last year.

Tottenham is in North America as part of its pre-season training for the upcoming Premier League campaign. Spurs battled the Seattle Sounders to a 3-3 draw on the weekend. After Wednesday’s game they travel to Illinois to face the Chicago Fire on Saturday. Tottenham opens its Premier League season on Aug. 16 away to West Ham United.

NOTES: Toronto FC returns to MLS action on Saturday when it hosts reigning league champions Sporting Kansas City. TFC will be without Jermain Defoe for that game—the Englishman is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Also unavailable for the Reds will be captain and central defender Steven Caldwell (quad tear) and right back Mark Bloom (MCL strain). Brazilian winger Jackson (Achilles injury) is doubtful…

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