Michael Bradley in preseason action for Toronto vs. Philly
USA Today

Absence of three Designated Players "not ideal" as Toronto FC wait to build team chemistry

TORONTO – Michael Bradley’s withdrawal from the US national team may have caused a bit of panic among fans, but Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen said supporters shouldn’t fear for the midfielder’s status come opening day.

Speaking with MLSsoccer.com during a Tuesday training session in Toronto, Nelsen said Bradley’s absence from head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s group ahead of their Wednesday friendly against Ukraine isn’t really a big concern.

“Just before [preseason], he had a little foot issue that the surgeon saw,” Nelsen said. “It’s nothing major at all. Now, after the preseason, he has to go see [the surgeon] again and check if everything is all right, just to get all those boxes ticked for the season.”

Still, Bradley was notably absent in the day’s training session, though he was not the only star player not with the team.

Jermain Defoe has yet to practice with his new club. He was listed as injured during his final days in England and missed his last possible game as a Tottenham player.

The forward did get a call up by England manager Roy Hodgson, though, and is currently away on international duty with the Three Lions, who take on Denmark on Wednesday.

The question now is just when will Defoe join up with Toronto FC? 

“As soon as possible,” Nelsen said. “As soon as he plays his game for England, he’ll be on a plane over.”

While Defoe and Bradley are fit and ready for Toronto’s season opener March 15 against the Seattle Sounders (4:30 pm ET | NBCSN, TSN/RDS2 in Canada), the club’s third Designated Player, Gilberto, is not quite there yet.

He picked up a quad injury ahead of Toronto’s preseason match Feb. 19 against the Columbus Crew and has been out of full training since. 

“Hopefully [Gilberto] should be back jogging real soon,” Nelsen said. “It’s a wee bit of a blessing in disguise because he’s come in so late. He’s put in a proper preseason in terms of conditioning in the gym.”

As Nelsen continues to shape his team, the fact that his three DP signings have yet to play or practice together remains a worry. 

“It’s not ideal, obviously,” Nelsen said. “It’s a big concern really because it does take time. It’s not just [Gilberto and Defoe] playing together, it’s the midfield, it’s everybody.”

Nelsen added: “There’s nothing we can do about it. We’ll work them and get the combinations going and hopefully we get it done as quick as possible.”