"Ticking time bomb" of international duty has Toronto FC scrambling to fill backline gaps

Ashtone Morgan

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TORONTO – With injuries, illness and a suspension combining to plague Toronto FC's backline, one or both of Ashtone Morgan and Gale Agbossoumonde will likely get an opportunity to impress when Toronto face off against D.C. United in the US capital on Saturday evening (7 pm ET; MLS Live).

With starting right back Richard Eckersley out long term due to a hamstring injury, TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen has gone with a back four of Ryan Richter, Steven Caldwell, Doneil Henry and Darren O’Dea over the last several weeks.

However, with the 20-year-old Henry suspended due to being sent off in Toronto’s last match against the Philadelphia Union, the door has now been opened for one or two of TFC’s other young defenders to get into the lineup and make a case for further playing time.

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“Doneil was looking really good [playing in central defense],” Nelsen told MLSsoccer.com. “I think he has matured a lot. Ashtone Morgan came on [against Philadelphia] when Doneil went off and he did really well. It is a great opportunity for Ashtone now. We’ve also got Gale who can go in at centre back or we can play Darren there and bring Ashtone in.”

Morgan has not started a match since April 27 and Agbossoumonde has not made an appearance since he played 90 minutes in TFC’s 1-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids on May 4.

While team captain O’Dea has been a fixture on Toronto’s backline all season long, playing as both a central defender and a left back, Nelsen’s backline woes have been exacerbated by the fact that the Republic of Ireland defender, who has just returned from International duty, is now questionable due to illness.

“I think it is a ticking time bomb when you go through time zones and then you come back and play,” Nelsen said. “Obviously your immune system drops when you travel. Something has to give eventually whether it is an injury or an immune system. Darren is questionable for Saturday but we’ll see.”

In addition to Henry and O’Dea, Toronto also has veteran central defender Danny Califf on its roster but the former Philadelphia Union stalwart has also been ruled out as an option due to a sore back.

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Thus, Nelsen and TFC could be looking at a situation in which they will face off against a D.C. United side on Saturday that is coming off a confidence-building 3-1 victory over the Union in US Open Cup competition with a backline in which three of the four defenders are younger than 25 and relatively inexperienced at the MLS level.

Furthermore, former TFC forward Dwayne De Rosario is coming off the fifth hat trick of his career and the Canadian International always seems to find an extra gear when he faces off against a former club.

Regardless of the somewhat precarious current nature of his backline, Nelsen remains fully confident that his side will be able to contend with everything that D.C. throw at them.

“Even if Darren is out, we still have Ashtone, Gale, Steven Caldwell and Ryan Richter," Nelsen said, "and we are fully confident they can do a job."