"We've lost far more than them over the first eight games of our season and nobody felt sorry for us," Nelsen said prior to Friday night's game in Kansas City. "Just because they're missing two or three, we're missing three in our midfield. So actually we're probably hurting more than them, to tell you the truth."
Nelsen notes he has been able to use his starting lineup once this season, a reference likely to the D.C. United game back in March.
While Toronto (4-4-0) has question-marks in midfield, the defensive cupboard is almost completely bare for Kansas City (5-4-2).
Matt Besler is with the U.S. World Cup team while Lawrence Olum has been summoned by the Kenyan national team for a two-legged Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. Aurelien Collin is nursing a hamstring injury and Ike Opara is out for the season after ankle surgery.
To make matters worse, 17-year-old defender Erik Palmer-Brown was sent off for two yellow cards in his MLS debut last weekend, a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire that saw Kansas City give up two penalties. So Palmer-Brown is suspended for Friday's game.
Kansas City is also without key attacking midfielder Graham Zusi, who's with the U.S. team.
Manager Peter Vermes started the Chicago game with a 3-5-2 formation, with Palmer-Brown between fullbacks Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic at the back, in a bid to work around his lack of defensive options. He had to return to a four-man backline after Palmer-Brown's ejection.
Palmer-Brown, reportedly a target of Juventus, still made history by becoming the youngest defender to start an MLS game. He turned 17 on April 24.
Collin and defensive midfielder Uri Rosell, who could drop back in defence, may be healthy enough to play Friday. But with three games in eight days — Kansas City hosts the Red Bulls next Tuesday and visits D.C. United on May 31 — Vermes will likely not want to rush players back.
While the MLS champions are still a quality team, they have lost two straight. And a makeshift defence would seem like catnip to Toronto's Jermain Defoe, who has five goals in all competitions.
Nelsen has questions of his own, facing five games in 15 days.
He has lost American midfielder Michael Bradley and Brazilian goalie Julio Cesar to the World Cup. Brazilian Jackson (concussion) is not expected to play and fellow midfielder Jonathan Osorio is doubtful (hamstring, hand injury).
Nelsen's other questions are selection-related.
Rookie defender Nick Hagglund had a strong game against New York in place of Doneil Henry while Bradley Orr, pushed up into midfield, also impressed.
Henry, 21, already has 40 MLS starts under his belt but has made some costly errors in recent games. Nelsen, perhaps easing the blow, said he was moved to the bench against the Red Bulls because he had played 120 minutes midweek in Vancouver and had a few knocks.
Hagglund's fine play against French star Thierry Henry and England's Bradley Wright-Phillips, the league's leading scorer, may extended Henry's time on the sidelines.
"Nick was brilliant," said Nelsen.
Nelsen, while not showing his hand, rejected the suggestion that time on the bench might offer a mixed message to Henry whom he regularly talks up.
"I sat on the bench at D.C. United and I was three years older than Doneil. They sat me," said Nelsen. "It's going to happen. It's going to happen when you're 20, it's going to happen when he's playing in the Premier league or in the top level."
"They're not bumps, they're life experiences that you've got to deal with. Everyone deals with them in any job, in any profession ... it's just how you react."
"Generally the best ones find a way on the field pretty quickly," he added.
The 21-year-old Hagglund has already won kudos on the field for his no fear approach. Off the field, his bubbly personality is also appreciated.
"He's a massive part of this squad, this changing room, for such a young kid," said captain Steven Caldwell. "He takes a lot of stick. He laughs, he smiles. His personality rubs off on everybody, He's a pleasure to have here."
Nelsen could retain Orr in central midfield and has newly acquired Collen Warner available, although he may have to play on the flank if Osorio, as expected, can't go.
Warner was the last man off the practice field Wednesday, chatting with Nelsen en route to the locker-room.
Rookie Daniel Lovitz, who has impressed since returning from loan in Wilmington, is another midfield option.
Toronto's career record against Kansas City is 4-10-4, including 1-7-1 on the road.