Will Defoe wear captain's armband against old team as Toronto hosts Spurs?
Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014 05:45 pm
TORONTO - With just one game under its belt, Tottenham has barely worked up a pre-season sweat.
But for Toronto FC, in the midst of a gruelling July league schedule, Wednesday's friendly with the English Premier League club has manager Ryan Nelsen in full protective mode.
"Everybody's going to get minutes," Nelsen told a news conference at BMO Field Tuesday. "We've got a few injuries. We've got guys who have played a lot recently that won't play.
"This is a chance for a lot of the guys who haven't seen many minutes in the league games to stake a claim. And what better way (than to) play well against a world-class team."
That means backup goalie Chris Konopka, who has waited his turn patiently behind first Julio Cesar and now Joe Bendik, will finally see some action.
Teenage goalie Quillan Roberts, one of several on-loan player recalled from the Wilmington Hammerheads for the friendly, could also see action. Roberts, 19, is coming off back-to-back shutouts in the USL Pro circuit, earning him player of the week honours.
Ashtone Morgan, Kyle Bekker, Dwayne De Rosario, Jeremy Hall and Andrew Wiedeman would also be candidates to get a good run-out for Toronto.
One interesting subplot is whether Nelsen will make English striker Jermain Defoe captain for the night as he takes on his former club.
With skipper Steven Caldwell sidelined by a quad tear, American midfielder Michael Bradley has been wearing the captain's armband.
Nelsen could swing the spotlight on Defoe, who played 362 games for Spurs, by having him lead out the team Wednesday. Asked if Defoe would captain his side, Nelsen said only that it was a good idea.
The Toronto manager, who captained New Zealand at the 2010 World Cup, is usually not very interested in discussing who will wear the armband. His standard answer when Caldwell is out is that he has plenty of leaders in his dressing room.
Nelsen is also anything but sentimental when it to comes to squad selection. Making Defoe the captain for the night could give the game more of a testimonial feel.
Neither team is treating the match like a cup final, however.
Toronto is planning to make the most of the unlimited substitutions while Tottenham's Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen referred to pre-season play as "getting the legs going and just preparing for the real games."
Still it is Mauricio Pochettino's first camp in charge at Spurs, after coming over from Southampton, so players will be looking to impress.
One Toronto FC player pointed to Bradley as the likely captain, saying Defoe would likely have little interest in wearing the armband.
Defoe did not start last Saturday in Houston, coming on as a substitute in the 63rd minute, and will not play this Saturday against defending champion Sporting Kansas City after earning a one-game suspension for accumulation of yellow cards.
Nevertheless Nelsen said Defoe is unlikely to play the full 90 minutes against Spurs, noting that the 31-old striker has not had a break since leaving Tottenham mid-campaign last season to join Toronto in January.
"We have to be careful with him. He might play 45 (minutes) and that's all," he said.
An open practice Tuesday at BMO Field drew several hundred Tottenham fans, as well as club mascot Chirpy. The Spurs fans booed a couple of Arsenal fans who dared show up in Gunners gear before cheering the Tottenham players as they ran on the pitch on a steamy, sunny late afternoon.
Electronic advertising around the field proclaimed Tottenham as "your local EPL club" and a "proud partner of Toronto FC."
The two clubs struck a marketing agreement as part of the Defoe transfer, which included Wednesday's friendly.
Tottenham opened its pre-season tour on Saturday with a 3-3 tie against the Seattle Sounders. Spurs plays the Chicago Fire on Sunday before heading home.
NOTES — Canadian point guard Steve Nash, a longtime Spurs fan, took part in Tottenham's practice Monday at Toronto's training ground. "I felt like a kid at Christmas," the Lakers star was quoted as saying on the Spurs website. "I got lucky a little and managed not to embarrass myself but what an amazing day — one I’ll never forget."
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