Toronto FC face welcome selection dilemmas as Jermain Defoe leads influential trio back from injury

TORONTO – Toronto FC welcomed back three key figures from injury this week as Jermain Defoe, captain Steven Caldwell and right back Mark Bloom all took part in full training sessions on Tuesday ahead of Saturday’s home match against the Chicago Fire (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE). 

Defoe missed out on Toronto FC’s last three matches due to a groin injury, but Nelsen says the English forward is back and looking good. 

“He’s blown out a couple of cobwebs and he looks as sharp as ever, which is all good coming up this weekend,” TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen told reporters at training Tuesday, before confirming that Defoe would feature in some capacity against Chicago. 

“He’ll be kicking down certain doors if he’s not on that field in some stage.”

But while Defoe is set to feature, Bloom and Caldwell might not be, with Nelsen saying it’s still “early on” with the two defenders. 

“This is their first full training session so we’ll see the repercussions of that today,” Nelsen said. “Hopefully it’s all good and as the week progresses, they have no setbacks and they got stronger and stronger.”

With Defoe available for selection once more, Nelsen is faced with the difficult task of picking a combination of two strikers to play up top. That task was made more complicated due to the strong form between Gilberto and Luke Moore in Defoe’s absence, both of whom scored regularly during Toronto’s four-game road trip in August. 

But, Nelsen says, his side wasn’t ever looking to have just two strikers combine well. 

“Well, it’s the three,” Nelsen explained. “It’s the combinations of 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. That’s the method in the madness, so if Defoe’s 100 percent back, it might be a Luke and Defoe, or Gilberto and Defoe combination.

“But whatever pairing that we have, we can hopefully not skip a beat and maximize the best of their abilities.”

That three-player combination, however, added a fourth to the mix as Bright Dike took to the field against Kansas City last weekend for the first time since tearing his Achilles tendon in February.  Nelsen said Dike doesn’t just offer him another type of forward up top, but a beautiful mind as well.

“Dike’s very articulate, very smart, probably far more intelligent than this team to tell you the truth,” Nelsen said. “He brings us a Notre Dame, mathematical, analytical IQ. For him, [returning to play] is just another mental barrier, as well, more than anything, to get out and say he’s done it and now he can progress from there.”

Defoe, Gilberto, Moore, Dike: It almost seems too good to be true for Toronto FC, but Nelsen went on to say that his team has “got a lot of salary cap room that we can add players if we wanted.”

But even with his current roster, Nelsen faces a selection headache, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. 

 “When everybody gets back fit, it’s a lovely little problem to have,” Nelsen said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to go for.”