TORONTO, Ont.—On another chilly January day in the city, Toronto FC players returned to BMO Training Ground once again on Monday morning, this time to practice for the first time since Seattle.
Training under an inflatable dome, most TFC players—academy and all—were working hard to get back into shape; however, one glaring gap on the pitch still remained (and no, not a designated-player signing). Absent from training was Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley, fresh off signing a new two-year deal with the Reds.
Here is some more info and a few other takeaways from TFC’s first training session of 2020.
Michael Bradley injury update
As we learned shortly after the MLS Cup Final, Bradley injured his right ankle in Toronto’s 3-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders.
As the Canadian Press’ Neil Davidson notes, Bradley himself downplayed the injury, stating that his ankle would take roughly two to three weeks to calm down.
With the focus on the U.S. international’s pending free-agent status, most didn’t think much of Bradley’s comments at the time. I mean, how long could an ankle (that he finished the match on) possibly take to heal?
According to Toronto FC general manager Ali Curtis, Bradley will undergo surgery on Tuesday in in New York and is expected to miss approximately four months after suffering “a very serious and severe ankle injury”.
Curtis says Bradley will be reevaluated in four to six weeks, but remains adamant that the club will not rush to bring their leader back.
“In Michael’s case, we are going to be careful and cautious about this,” Curtis told reporters. “But we’re confident that, once he has the surgery, that he’ll be able to return to play. It’ll take probably approximately four months. Now that could be shorter or it could be lengthier depending on how we manage that process.”
Toronto FC officials did not provide specifics when asked about that process—as the case with most club’s policy.
However, that still begs the question, why wait until now—more than two months since Bradley suffered the injury—to have the surgery?
Jozy Altidore feels “[Bradley”] was let down”
While GM Curtis and coach Greg Vanney were more understanding of the delayed solution to Bradley’s injury, another strong voice in the TFC locker room was not.
Jozy Altidore shared his displeasure with reporters shortly after Curtis broke the news. Altidore, who learned about Bradley’s injury on Sunday, believed the club “mishandled” his captain’s injury.
“In my opinion, for me, it was handled poorly,” Altidore told reporters. “This was an injury from two months ago and it’s not the first time this has happened. [… ] For two months to have gone by and now he’s having surgery and to be out ’til June. I don’t think it’s good enough.
“He’s a guy that takes care of himself in an incredible way, an incredible professional […] I think he was let down.”
As mentioned above, Vanney was a bit more sympathetic than Altidore with the TFC medical staff and doctors for the delayed solution; his daughter suffered the same injury in gymnastics, according to the TFC head coach—a very complicated and complex injury which is difficult to find on initial scans.
“I understand that that this is not an easy find and an easy fix,” Vanney explained. ”It’s an injury where you feel like you can pretty much do everything. But there’s something that just tells you it’s not right and there’s a little bit of annoyance and a pain.
“So you can be at 95 per cent and feel like everything’s good but that last five per cent just doesn’t feel right. And the problem is that that last five per cent, you’re not going to get over it and it’s going to make things worse.”
Furthermore, Vanney was quick to dismiss Altidore’s comments.
“Jozy has his opinions,” said Vanney, who also mentioned that the TFC striker probably did not have as much information on the injury as he or the club.
As for who will fill Bradley’s void in the meantime?
“I don’t think it’s just one guy who’s going to fill it,” said Vanney. “But as a team, as a midfield, guys will have to step up and fill the space. We still have a very strong midfield.”
“I think Liam [Fraser]’s ready,” added Altidore, on his 21-year-old midfield teammate. “He comes in every day ready to work. I watched him with Canada (recently), I thought he was the best player on the field for Canada. It’s a great moment for him and I think he’ll embrace it with both hands.”
Homegrown signings on the agenda
According to the Toronto FC general manager, the club may announce a few homegrown signings later this week.
With the Reds putting a greater emphasis on developing homegrown talent in recent years, the opportunity to lock up young Canadian talent who may not count against the salary budget is very appealing.
Toronto FC’s four 2020 MLS SuperDraft picks and the rest of the Toronto FC academy— including 17-year-old Canadian Youth Soccer Player of the Year Jayden Nelson—were training with the club Monday morning, however, only about five USL players will travel with the team when the club departs to California in early February.
Curtis also confirmed to reporters that defender Laurent Ciman was granted his Canadian citizenship and is no longer considered as an international player, while Japanese-born Tsubasa Endoh isn’t too far away from earning his status.
One question where the general manager didn’t provide too much of an update on, though, is the club’s current position on acquiring a designated player.
“It’s always best to have those players in from day one,” Curtis told reporters. “We’re continuing having discussions with different clubs and different players and when there’s news, we’ll let you know.”