TORONTO – Toronto FC continues to prepare for the final match of their season-opening seven-game road trip, keeping one eye on the ailing Philadelphia Union side they’ll face this weekend before returning to a renovated BMO Field for their home opener on May 10.
While there were plenty of familiar faces in training this week, a few noticeable absences were felt in the backline. Central defender Steven Caldwell and right back Mark Bloom remain out with their extended injuries, Caldwell dealing with an Achilles problem while Bloom tends to a quad strain.
But it was the absence of goalkeeper Joe Bendik due to a minor foot issue that was most notable, with TFC head coach Greg Vanney indicating that the injury may force him into a change between the posts for Saturday’s match at the Union.
“It’s nothing serious and we don’t see it taking too terribly long,” Vanney said of Bendik’s injury. “He’s questionable for the weekend so if it’s not this week, we’re optimistic for next week. I don’t see it as being a long-term thing. It’s an opportunity, should Joe not be able to go, for somebody to show us what they have and what they’re capable of doing.”
Bendik has been a regular for TFC for three seasons now, excluding a minor pre-World Cup run out for Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar at the start of last season. Should Bendik be unable to play this weekend, the start would likely go to backup ‘keeper Chris Konopka. Now in his sixth year in MLS, the 30-year-old Konopka has just two career regular season starts.
Bendik’s current injury continues a worrying trend of defensive absences for Toronto FC, but Vanney says the data shows signs for optimism on the injury front.
“It’s way better than it has been in the last two years,” Vanney said of the number of injuries TFC has dealt with this season. “The number of sessions that players are missing is a fraction of what it has been over the last couple of years. We’ve missed very little training and not too many games. We’ve been on the right path and guys are fit. This is going to be our real test, when we get into May and we play a lot of games back-to-back. That will be a real sign of how our overall fitness is and how our durability is. That’s the key to this league.”
Vanney will need to call upon some of his options in depth once more, but one silver lining is the continued emergence of Canadian left back Ashtone Morgan. The 24-year-old Morgan’s next appearance will be his 100th across all competitions for TFC; he’d be the first player in club history to reach that milestone.
“He’s absolutely deserving of it,” Vanney said. “He’s come in this year with a great mentality. He’s had a great preseason for us and he did an excellent job. For Ashtone, it was about confidence, you know, and having somebody who believes in him and gives him a little bit of information here and there on how he can continue to improve his game, because he’s still a young, developing player. He’s taken all of that on board.
“He’s an eager learner. He’s slowed down some of his challenges and some of the things that got him in trouble before. He’s making better decisions now that he slows down. That’s the primary thing. He’s had an excellent run early in the season. Just that, alone, makes him very deserving of the opportunity to pick up his 100th cap.”