Toronto FC looks to climb out of MLS hole as in­jury list eases

The Welland Tribune - - Sports - NEIL DAVID­SON

Toronto FC’s list of walk­ing wounded is be­gin­ning to thin. And not a mo­ment too soon.

A quar­ter of the way through the reg­u­lar sea­son and the Ma­jor League Soc­cer cham­pi­ons are sec­ond-last in the stand­ings at 2-6-1. In­juries have forced coach Greg Van­ney to use 14 dif­fer­ent play­ers in­clud­ing cap­tain Michael Bradley, a hold­ing mid­fielder by trade, in the back­line.

TFC has al­ready lost one more game than it did all of last sea­son when it led the league at 20-5-9.

Toronto has given up five goals in the first 15 min­utes of a game, tied with New York City FC for worst in league. Given TFC ac­tu­ally con­ceded those goals in the first seven min­utes of the game, it can prob­a­bly claim the record.

Toronto has also yielded five goals in the first 15 min­utes of the sec­ond half. Only Van­cou­ver had been scored on more dur­ing the same pe­riod. But, knowing the class of his squad, Van­ney sees brighter days ahead.

He should be able to draw from de­fend­ers Chris Mavinga, Gre­gory van der Wiel, Ja­son Her­nan­dez and Eriq Zavaleta on Fri­day against vis­it­ing Or­lando (6-3-1), mean­ing Bradley can re­vert to his nor­mal mid­field perch.

Mavinga (ham­string) and Zavaleta (quad) are re­turn­ing from in­jury. Van der Wiel has been play­ing through an on­go­ing Achilles is­sue while Her­nan­dez, who re­joined the team in late March, has been work­ing him­self back into shape.

On the mi­nus side, Toronto will be with­out its $12-mil­lion US strike tan­dem with the sus­pended Se­bas­tian Giovinco join­ing the in­jured Jozy Alti­dore (foot) on the side­line.

Nico Hasler (quad), Justin Mor­row (calf ) and Drew Moor (quad) re­main out. De­fender

Nick Hag­glund (ham­string) trained by him­self Wed­nes­day and will likely need a lit­tle more time.

Toronto faces a chal­leng­ing stretch, start­ing with Or­lando whose six-game win­ning streak was snapped in a 2-1 loss by league-lead­ing At­lanta on Sun­day. FC Dal­las (4-1-4) vis­its BMO Field next week be­fore TFC heads to Colum­bus (6-3-3).

“We know we have a good team but it does us no good to be sit­ting in here af­ter ev­ery game talk­ing about the same things,” a stone­faced Bradley said af­ter last Satur­day’s 3-2 loss at New Eng­land.

“We’ve got to find the right ways to play our­selves back into things and re­gain the mo­men­tum that we’ve had for the bet­ter part of a year and a half or two,” he added.

A gru­elling CONCACAF Cham­pi­ons League sched­ule, not to men­tion back-to-back MLS Cup ap­pear­ances, has meant that Toronto has had next to no down time.

TFC poured all its re­sources into the Cham­pi­ons League run, look­ing to fill the last re­main­ing empty tro­phy case at its train­ing cen­tre. A win and the MLS club would have headed to the FIFA Club World Cup.

It didn’t help that af­ter the heart­break­ing penalty shootout loss to Chivas Guadala­jara in the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal, Toronto was thrown right back into the MLS reg­u­lar-sea­son grind.

Play­ing at al­ti­tude has taken a toll.

As has a long Toronto win­ter and poor spring, which forced TFC play­ers to train on ar­ti­fi­cial turf and then play on a soft grass sur­face at BMO Field (a new sur­face is in the works).

Prac­tice has been cut back to al­low play­ers more time to re­cover.

On the plus side, Cana­dian mid­fielder Jonathan Oso­rio has been in fine form and Bradley re­mains the team’s glue.

“Michael’s been what he is, which is ex­traor­di­nar­ily pro­fes­sional,” said Van­ney.

Brazil­ian new­comer Auro has also been a rock, do­ing what­ever has been asked.

“Just a war­rior. He shows up ev­ery sin­gle day. Loves to play soc­cer,” said Van­ney, who nev­er­the­less wor­ries about the work­load the 22-year-old has had to carry.

And van der Wiel, who had been seen as a right-sided out­side back, has been a rev­e­la­tion at cen­tre back.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

TFC’s Jozy Alti­dore re­acts dur­ing the CONCACAF Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal against Chivas in Guadala­jara, Mex­ico, in April.

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