TORONTO – With Toronto FC looking to strengthen its roster, primarily in central midfield and striker, manager Ryan Nelsen has some tough decisions ahead.
And, while polite and soft-spoken, the former New Zealand international clearly has no problems wielding a scalpel with his lineup. As he was on the pitch as a defender who made the most of his skills, Nelsen will do whatever it takes.
As manager, from squad selection to choosing his starting 11, Nelsen has one guiding force.
“It’s what’s going to get us the win,” he said after practice Tuesday. “This is a professional environment, it’s not about massaging egos or anything like that. My door’s always open. As I said it’s about getting three points and if people are more interested in worrying about their own spot than Toronto getting three points, this is probably not the place to be.
“But no players in this club are like that. They’re all really good guys, they’re solid professionals, they understand that everybody gets a fair deal and in the end, it’s whatever’s best for the team.”
Canadian midfielder Matt Stinson was waived Tuesday, the victim of a numbers game and an expected influx of new talent into the MLS club.
Nelsen paid tribute to the 21-year-old, who made 25 appearances in two seasons, calling him a “good professional” and a “fantastic servant.”
“Unfortunately there just wasn’t enough room as we’re moving forward,” he said.
Toronto (1-2-0) is inching closer to signing an Argentine player, believed to be 22-year-old forward Maximiliano Urruti of Newell’s Old Boys.
Nelsen says the deal is 90 to 95 per cent done, with the rocky financial situation of the Argentine club having slowed the transaction.
Several other new signings are expected, meaning more roster decisions.
“Yes and that’s great, that’s really good,” Nelsen said. “Now with a couple of guys coming back from injury, we’re looking deeper now and that’s been our problem. We haven’t had a very deep squad.”
Goalkeeper is a good example. Stefan Frei has been the starter in years gone by but missed all of last season with a leg injury. Restored to health, he broke his nose during the first pre-season game in 2013.
That has given Joe Bendik a chance and the former Portland Timbers goalie has been excellent.
Frei practised Tuesday without a protective face mask but Nelsen seemed to indicate that Bendik still has the upper hand.
“Joe’s been absolutely fantastic. Stefan’s been absolutely fantastic. But you have to look at time in between the net. Unfortunately Stefan’s had that big injury and then he’s had the nose break. He hasn’t had much time in goal.
“Nobody’s guaranteed a spot here and everybody understands that.”
Midfielders Luis Silva and Julio Cesar both practised Tuesday but Nelsen cautioned they had plenty to catch up on due to injury layoffs. Only striker Danny Koevermans (knee) practised away from the main squad.
Toronto has a bye this week before hosting the Los Angeles Galaxy next week so Nelsen has some time to ponder his roster choices.
One imagines that both Silva and Cesar will start whenever they are deemed match-fit.
Toronto currently has nine international slots on its roster and is using seven: defenders Richard Eckersley and Darren O’Dea, midfielders John Bostock, Hogan Ephraim, Reggie Lambe, and strikers Robert Earnshaw and Taylor Morgan.
Koevermans will take up another international slot when he returns to action.
Midfielders Darel Russell and Cesar, while imports, have green cards so are not considered internationals.
Teams start with eight international sports but can add or subtract that number via trade. Toronto has an extra via a trade with Houston. The slot reverts to the Dynamo next season. Toronto will get that slot back, however, since one previously sent to Vancouver in a trade is due to come back in 2014.
On the issue of captain, Nelsen declined to say if O’Dea was the permanent skipper in the wake of Torsten Frings’ retirement.
The manager says he is not fussed about who wears the captain’s armband, saying he has “quite a few” leaders in the club.
“A captain just wears the armband, really it’s just an extra bit of cloth to carry around on the field. But in there (the locker-room) there’s five or six leaders.”
He noted that he was one of several captains at Queens Park Rangers.
Having played two away games and three strong teams to date in Vancouver, Sporting Kansas City and Montreal, Nelsen said he is very satisfied with the team’s progress to date.
“To be blatantly honest, if you gave me three points at the start of the season out of three tough games that we had, I would have taken it,” said the manager.
Nelsen is buoyed by the fact his club showed it can compete with top teams, although it has yet to “put in a 90-minute game.”
Part of that is because of the player overhaul at the club and the time it takes for a new squad to gel. “And that’s going to take (more) time because again we’re going to probably bring in a few more,” said Nelsen.
NOTES — Ryan Richter remains the lone trialist still with the club … TFC’s players on international duty have left the squad. The rest will practise Wednesday and Thursday and then have the weekend off, with some of the English players getting Thursday off as well so they can fly home … Nelsen said his heart sank on the weekend with QPR losing to Aston Villa. “It’s going to be tough for them now,” he said of the London club’s battle to escape relegation. “But you never know, QPR like to do things dramatically, so we’ll see.”