While there may have been added build-up to Toronto FC’s regular-season opener due to a Week 1 bye, fans waiting to get a look at the rebuilt side will have to wait a bit longer to see their Designated Player trifecta in action together.
US national team midfielder Michael Bradley and English international Jermain Defoe are set to go in Saturday’s road match against the Seattle Sounders, but Brazilian striker Gilberto was left at home as he continues to recover from a quad injury.
Still, there’s still plenty of intrigue for the nationally televised match at CenturyLink Field (4:30 pm ET; NBCSN, TSN/RDS2 in Canada), and Gilberto’s absence opens the door for former MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario, another TFC newcomer, or Andrew Wiedeman to start at striker.
Homegrown midfielder Jonathan Osorio, set to start in the middle alongside Bradley, said the mood in the locker room is electric heading into the first game of the season.
“I think, especially this week, we started to get excited,” Osorio said. “The locker room is very excited. It’s the first step on Saturday and we cannot skip that step. We have to go through Seattle and play our game and try to get the three points.”
De Rosario is the likely choice up top for head coach Ryan Nelsen, although Wiedeman has been practicing with Bradley and Defoe earlier in the week.
“It’s a very winnable game for us,” Wiedeman told MLSsoccer.com. “We would have loved to play on the opening week, so it’s tough that we had a bye, but we’re all really excited to get out there and play and show what we’ve done in the offseason.”
“[The Sounders] have a great backline,” Wiedeman said. “They have two real big center backs. With those big guys, you can’t really post up on them because anything that comes in there, they’re going to win. You have to try to find those little pockets, that half-yard of separation and get your space.”
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Whoever gets the start at striker, they’ll like benefit from the playmaking abilities of Defoe, who has already made a favorable impression with his new teammates.
“[Jermain] is a very intelligent player,” Wiedeman said. “His movement is amazing, actually. It makes it real easy to play with him, he’s always finding good spots, and technically he’s second to none. The way he strikes the ball; his touches are first class.
“His release is pretty remarkable. He just gets the shot off so quick. There’s not much back swing, he just punches through it but he gets so much pace on it.”
Osorio believes that beating Seattle would make an important statement to the rest of the league.
“We’ve got to set the tone and let teams know that we’re here and we’re for real,” Osorio said. “We have a lot of hype around our team so teams are definitely gunning for us to beat us and prove that maybe we’re not one of the top teams. But, on the other hand, we’re trying to prove we are.”