The current postponement of the MLS season has been a disappointment for all football fans and players alike. But there is one aspect of the current crisis that is proving every day to be a blessing in disguise.
The protracted nature of the COVID-19 lockdown has allowed a surplus of one resource that is vital in any sport: time. With all the extra time, players who were expected to miss action have now been given ample opportunity to let their injuries heal and begin rehabilitating.
This is of particular importance for Toronto FC, which currently has two key players missing from active duty: Michael Bradley and Pablo Piatti.
As many fans know, the loss of Michael Bradley, TFC’s stalwart captain, was of huge concern for the team, as he not only set the tempo (and the demeanour) on the field, but is the defensive linchpin for the squad. Simply, without MB4, Toronto FC is not as good.
Back in January, Ali Curtis told reporters that he would be out for at least four months after undergoing surgery on his right ankle. With no end to the league hiatus in sight, it looks ever more the case that Bradley will survive that time without missing very much play at all. Of course structured rehabilitation is a factor, as well as the current lack of proper training for with the team itself, but nonetheless, it is a advantageous situation for TFC.
Pablo Piatti, on the other hand—TFC’s big designated player signing—went down in training camp to a left hamstring injury. His impending absence was also worrisome for the organization back in January as he was meant to play alongside Alejandro Pozuelo and Jozy Altidore with the intent of creating a dynamic offensive triad; without him, many were worried goal-scoring would be an issue for the Reds.
However, the months that have past will almost certainly sure up his hamstring enough to so that he can play when the league resumes. Like Bradley, proper rehabilitation and supervised training will be necessary, but it will still very much be an upgrade from the situation at the start of the season, even if individual workouts are the norm for the time being.
As of March 10, Nick Deleon and Jacob Shaffelburg were also listed as questionable on the injury list—Deleon for back tightness and Shaffelburg with a hamstring injury of his own. But both of these injuries were minor enough that by the time the league restarts they should be non-issues.
MLS is currently targeting a league restart date of May 10. If this proves accurate, then even without full fitness the Reds will find themselves in a much better position than anyone was considering even one month ago.
And even though Toronto FC will be less sharp as an unit, it is important to consider that each team in Major League Soccer is facing the same situation. Because the standard of professional training and rigour is currently impossible for everyone, no team will be truly fit enough to compete at the usual standard after the lockdown ends; however, if the league does resume in May, the cardinal virtue for success will be adaptation, and this is where fortune favours experience.
Both Bradley and Piatti have years of experience under their respective belts, and they certainly possess the proper mindset to bounce back efficiently once it comes time for kick-off. As the days roll onward, it becomes more likely that a condensed season will become a possibility, and for TFC, this will mean utilizing all of their experience and depth in a way that suits the new landscape of the league.
While the future is still uncertain for many things, and there are very few positives that can currently be counted as guarantees in the league, the return of Michael Bradley and Pablo Piatti are two factors that fans can look forward to.