TORONTO — Adrian Cann has been more than a Toronto FC teammate for Nana Attakora. He has been a mentor.
With Cann out for the season with a torn ACL after a training accident on Tuesday, Attakora becomes one of the possible solutions at center back to fill the vacancy left and he is ready if called upon for Saturday’s game against Sporting Kansas City at BMO Field (7 pm ET; watch LIVE online).
“Adrian has taught me a lot,” said Attakora. “Especially [because] it’s him that’s out, it gives me that fire to do well for him. Over the last season-and-a-half, I’ve built a strong relationship with him. It’s extra special for me.”
Attakora was nearby when Cann got injured during training and saw the incident unfold.
“Adrian is the type of guy if he’s in pain he doesn’t show it," he said. "The amount of pain he was in and how he was yelling, you felt it. He stays positive all the time. … It’s life, it’s part of the game. He’s professional and he will be back.”
Despite the seriousness of the injury — Cann tore the ACL in his right knee — Attakora feels that his mentor has some things in his favor that will help him make a quick recover.
“The thing with Adrian, he’s super fit,” said Attakora. “He’s a strong guy. That should speed up the recovery in itself.”
Attakora, who recently turned 22, looks up to fellow central defender Cann — eight years his elder — and credits Cann for showing him the ropes.
“Everything that a center back can do, Adrian was for me,” Attakora said. “He could be a like a big brother, a leader. Off the field, he kept me in check in a way, kept me grounded. He was just a good teammate all around. Off the field he’s a funny guy. I’ll miss him. Wherever I am, Adrian is always someone I’ll look up to.”
TFC head coach Aron Winter appreciates what Cann has meant to Attakora.
“As a soccer player, it is always nice to have somebody who gives you advice,” Winter said. “But the most important thing is that you have to do it always by yourself as a soccer player.”
Attakora has shown considerable potential in his five seasons with Toronto FC, but he has had some struggles this season. After playing in four of Toronto’s first six regular-season matches, he has been seldom used.
“He started the beginning of the season well and then he got injured,” Winter said of the young defender. “Also in that moment, other players were training well and it was easy for me to make a choice. Nana has been doing very well the last two weeks and has been training well.”
With Cann injured and defender Dicoy Williams away on Gold Cup duty with Jamaica, Attakora could get the start on Saturday.
“There’s a possibility that Nana cold get back on the pitch,” Winter said.
Kick in the rear for Toronto
Winter sees a difference in the way his squad — who was blown out 6-2 at home against Philadelphia last weekend — is going about things this week as it prepares to host Sporting on Saturday.
"You can see how they prepare themselves for the training now," Winter said. “They need to realize that the performance they have given last Saturday was not the good way. They have to realize you can make mistakes but when they are on the pitch, whether it's training or a game, they have to give everything. You can make mistakes, but you have to work hard together to establish what we want together."
While a decision has not been made about whether they will play on Saturday, Winter said that forward Alan Gordon (groin) and midfielder Jacob Peterson (hamstring) were fit. Peterson has missed the past two games and Gordon has not played an MLS game since April 30.