TORONTO, Ont.—Toronto’s professional soccer club returned to the city earlier this week following the first part of their preseason camp in Orlando, opening doors to media for a training session on Friday at Downsview Park.
Practice began at 10:30 a.m., with everything normal, however, it wasn’t long before those in attendance were in for another surprise.
Absent from Toronto FC training was striker Jozy Altidore, which isn’t abnormal the designated player during this time of the year. But concerns started to grow as the Toronto Sun’s Steve Buffery reported that Altidore was not training with the team today due to neck spasms.
So what’s the latest with Altidore, and what else went down at TFC training on Friday?
Nelson speaks to media, praises Osorio
With hair like that, it’s no surprise that Jayden Nelson’s favourite player growing up was Ronaldinho. The 2019 Canadian Youth Player of the Year had the opportunity to introduce himself to reporters for the first time since officially signing a Homegrown contract last week with Toronto FC.
“It means a lot,” said Nelson. “it’s just a start, obviously, but I’m happy to sign with TFC. I have a great backup or great system behind me, so it was easy for me to make the decision.”
The talented youngster can play across the front line, but he believes he’s best utilized when his space isn’t limited.
“My best position I think is the winger role, but I think it’s a free-roam; I like to roam around a lot,” said Nelson. “I think [my best position] is a winger, but as a 10 as well.”
It’s been a wild few months for the 17-year-old, who also recently also received his first senior call-up for Jon Herdman’s Canadian national team. As the youngest player in the camp, Nelson appeared in all three of Canada’s matches, including one against Barbados where he found the back of the net.
Jayden Nelson scores his first career senior international goal for Canada at 17 years of age | #TFCLive https://t.co/GQ1Juk7xCx— Michael Singh (@MichaelSingh94) January 11, 2020
“I went [the senior camp] nervous, but there were a couple guys—Jonathan Osorio & Samuel Piette—kind of took their arm and put it around me and said ‘just play your game, you’re here for a reason.’ I think I kind of took that to heart,” said Nelson.
And according to Nelson, reminiscent of teammate Liam Fraser’s remarks last week, Osorio’s mentorship doesn’t stop there.
“It’s kind of a weird thing because he’s is in my position as well,” said Nelson. “Everyday, I see him in the change room and I try to strive to be exactly like him. He’s definitely a player I look up to, and it’s a good feeling to know that he’s a guy that looks out for me, as well.”
Nelson also mentioned that his end goal was to hopefully one day play in Europe, however, the highly-touted Brampton-native understands what it means to play for Toronto FC.
Maintenance day for Jozy?
On the heels of club captain Michael Bradley’s surgery, #TFCLive almost went into a meltdown on Friday afternoon after news broke that Altidore had missed training.
Friggin love the guy but he's literally made of glass. #TFCLive https://t.co/M7GgbgDiAe— Rob Ditta (@RobDitta) January 31, 2020
However, after speaking to head coach Greg Vanney, cause for panic was quickly averted. To avoid any sort of speculation, here is the full quote when I asked Vanney about Altidore’s absence.
“His back tightened up,” said Vanney. “There, I think there are two things. I think over the next few days, to be honest with you, I think the turf (and the turf conditions here) we’re going to be modifying guys—especially some of our senior guys or guys who’ve had little things that we want to protect. So, that’s going to be normal over the next few days. Then when get back outside and down to L.A. and we’re back on grass and good conditions and all that, we’ll really push hard again when we get there. But this is part of the product of us having a little bit more time (not being in Champions League) that we can modify a little bit here while we’re on this particular turf field.”
Essentially, with Altidore’s injury history—and after the Reds recently flew back from Florida—Vanney and co. are opting to play it extra cautious with their designated player (along with a few other veterans). Later in the scrum, Vanney also went on to praise Altidore (once again) on his fitness, doubling down by saying he’s excited to see how Jozy is going to start the season.
While media didn’t speak to Altidore on Friday, I did see the striker in the halls at the BMO Training Grounds. He appeared to be in good spirits, but it’s worth noting that it was just a very brief encounter.
Between his opening day blowup, the trade rumours, and now missing training, it’s been quite an eventful start to camp for the American.
Q’s new contract: what does it mean for Bono?
25-year-old Alex Bono played in just 7 MLS games last season.— Waking the Red (@WakingtheRed) January 8, 2020
In @MichaelSingh94's latest column, he paints the picture and asks what should @TorontoFC do with the talented, young—and expensive—GK? | #TFCLivehttps://t.co/l7Xa5FbgqR
At the end of Vanney’s scrum, Toronto FC officials confirmed that goalkeeper Quentin Westberg was about to be re-signed by the club.
The 33-year-old, who arrived at BMO Field last February, earned the starting role from Alex Bono en route to playing a crucial role for the Reds down the stretch last season.
“... you see kind of see his confidence with his feet and his ability to start attacks by playing behind guys, but also make saves,” said Vanney of Westberg. “But just the things that people don’t always see, just his ability to work with people in the locker room and to help manage, lead in his way, and have conversations.
“He’s a guy we want here for as long as we can, and we want he and Alex [Bono] to keep competing on a daily basis to push each other to fight for the first spot, and both of them will have their opportunities over the course of the season to do that.”
Vanney’s eagerness to include Bono in the conversation makes it difficult to tell whether or not the Reds’ coach is being genuine or if this is a PR spin to keep the 25-year-old’s value high—who earned $382,000 USD last season, according to the MLS Players Association.
Despite the fact that 2015 first-round pick only appeared in a mere seven MLS games last season, the TFC head coach is confident in both of his goalkeeper’s abilities.
“He and Alex [Bono] are two phenomenal keepers who are both capable of starting,” Vanney reiterated.
I wrote about this situation earlier in the offseason, and with Westberg now likely set for a pay increase, can the Reds really afford to keep two goalkeepers—who are paid like starters—on their roster?
Friday also provided little update on TFC’s search for a designated player, as Vanney balked at the question when asked, stating that it’s best to probably ask general manager Ali Curtis or president Bill Manning for an update.
The Reds will have the weekend off, but will get things back underway on Monday with an afternoon training session. As always, keep a close eye on WTR as we’ll have all of your updates.