Toronto FC coach Ryan Nelsen facing tough lineup decisions ahead of Philadelphia Union match

Ryan Nelsen in the rain

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USA Today sports

TORONTO – After having to play his last match without a large portion of his first-choice starting lineup, Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen has a welcome problem on his hands ahead of Saturday’s road fixture against the Philadelphia Union (7:30 pm ET; MLS Live).

With a number of Toronto’s backup players excelling in Toronto’s 4-1 victory over D.C. United last Saturday and Jonathan Osorio and Steven Caldwell returning to active duty following suspensions, Nelsen looks to have a plethora of quality options to choose from for TFC’s last three matches of the 2013 campaign.

In addition to Caldwell, team captain and defensive linchpin, and Osorio, the team's second-leading scorer, the TFC gaffer will likely also have the services of the squad’s leading goal scorer, Robert Earnshaw, at his disposal against Philadelphia.

“Earnie is back now in training,” Nelsen told MLSsoccer.com. “He has had a couple of really good days, so he should be available for Saturday.”

While it is expected that Caldwell will immediately make his way back into the starting XI, it will be interesting to see if Osorio and Earnshaw start against Philadelphia given the especially fine performances delivered by midfielder Darel Russell and striker Bright Dike in Toronto’s demolition of D.C. United.

“I think there are some guys who deserve to get some game time because of their application during the season and their attitudes,” Nelsen said. “But you also have to reward people who have played well.”

Nelsen added: “I think Darel Russell has arguably been our best player in the last two games. So you have to reward his play in the recent games.”

While balancing the need to reward players for their performances in matches and hard work in training, Nelsen is also working to bring along young Canadian draft picks Kyle Bekker and Emery Welshman and TFC Academy graduates such as Manny Aparicio and Quillan Roberts.

Nelsen had a pointed message for those youngsters, as well as an emerging Greek chorus pressing for them to get more playing time given the fact that Toronto has been eliminated from playoff contention.

“For all the younger guys, especially these days, it is a generation of instant gratification,” Nelsen said.” They ask for something and they get given it. In football it is sometimes best to put your head down while knowing that your time will come. It is about how your attitude is when you aren’t getting playing time. That’s when you can kind of fall by the wayside like so many thousands and millions of players have in the past.”

He continued: “Every player on this squad has had such a good attitude. They work their backsides off every day at training and they want to get better. I can’t ask for anything more from them.”

One player who most likely will not see any time for Toronto in the team’s last three matches is Young Designated Player Matías Laba. However, Nelsen admitted on Thursday that his dynamic young midfielder has recovered well from a broken toe and that he is on schedule to be ready when TFC kick off preseason next year.

“Matty is now out of his [walking] cast, so he is kind of running in the pool now,” Nelsen said. “He had to stay in the boot a little bit longer.

"As I said when he did it, the fracture was right by the joint, so you just have to be careful with those ones because that is kind of a pressure point. So he was in the cast for a couple of extra weeks for precautionary reasons, but it looks like it has healed well.”