SPORTS

Toronto FC stars both reach out Wednesday with messages to supporters

09/17/2014 02:34 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:56 EDT
TORONTO - A tweet from Jermain Defoe. A plea from Michael Bradley.

The Toronto FC stars may not have been aligned, but they both had something to say Wednesday.

Defoe, from his perch in England, took to social media to announce he will be back in Toronto on Monday. Previously the club had told reporters that the 31-year-old with the wonky groin — and a question mark over his future — would be back Saturday.

"Rehab has gone well! Back to Toronto Monday, and ready for playoff push #goals," said the club's leading scorer in his second TFC-related tweet since Toronto turned down a club-record transfer bid for its star striker amidst reports that he wanted to go home.

Rather than dash out a tweet, Bradley took the unusual step of volunteering to chat with the media after practice Wednesday. Usually the club controls access to its stars like the Prime Minister's Office handles Stephen Harper and Bradley had already been made available to reporters Tuesday.

But the stand-in captain, after huddling with a pair of public relations types, was ready for a second go-round in as many days.

His message was for Toronto FC fans to get behind the team Sunday when it welcomes hapless Chivas USA (6-16-6) to BMO Field. The game is the first of seven remaining for a 9-11-7 Toronto team struggling to reverse a slide down the standings.

"The thing that I cannot stress enough is how much we need our fans to make BMO the best stadium, the best atmosphere that we all know it is and can be in the league," said Bradley.

The U.S. international is as intense as they come. Smoke was virtually pouring out of his ears Saturday in the wake of a controversial call in Chicago that cost Toronto a much-needed two points.

So Bradley's commitment to the TFC cause is not in doubt. But he's also a company man. And the Toronto FC faithful need a push despite the outlay of millions this season and subsequent culling of manager Ryan Nelsen and five assistant coaches.

This weekend's game is a rare Sunday outing at BMO Field — and features the league's second-worst team in Chivas. And while the last home game — a 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union — was announced as another sellout of 22,591, more than a few ticket-holders elected to stay at home.

And with an announcement expected Tuesday on the plans to expand/renovate BMO Field, empty seats would serve as a poor intro.

But fan fervour can be in short supply when a team is winless in six games (0-4-2) and has won just three of its last 16 (3-7-6). TFC has not won at home since July 12 (0-3-2) and has a 5-6-2 record at BMO Field this season. And four of those wins were before June 8.

Rookie defender Nick Hagglund enthusiastically lent his voice to Bradley's, talking up the Toronto crowd.

"When they're on fire and they're holding up their scarves and singing the Canadian national anthem, it transfers from the stadium to the guys on the field," he said. "And we just want to win for them."

There were no words of wisdom from journeyman English striker Luke Moore, who had a brief stint with Chivas earlier in the season. He declined to speak to the media.

Bradley's message, while clearly well-intentioned, seemed like the latest salvo from an MLS franchise that has started to resemble a reality TV show.

Last Thursday it was outgoing MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke's turn for a Big Brother-style confessional when he told a room full of Ryerson MBA students that Bradley and new manager Greg Vanney were the only ones "looking around and going 'We ain't going down unless we go down fighting.'"

The sly words of a master executive looking to take the focus away from his soccer team? Or an honest aside delivered en route to the airport?

You choose. But Vanney and Toronto FC players found themselves starting the week by having to answer questions about their CEO's swipe.

Leiweke also told the Ryerson crowd he did not expect Defoe to be back next year, saying he expected they would have to bring in new designated player talent.

Defoe cannot go anywhere until the January transfer window opens so Toronto is his only available port of call.

While Defoe will be back next week ahead of the Sept. 27 game against the visiting Portland Timbers, Vanney suggested that the star striker may not see action until the Oct. 4 game in Los Angeles against the Galaxy.

"My concern is Portland would be a quick jump," said Vanney. "He doesn't know 100 per cent how he would respond to a full training session. The key is to get him back and get him in and then we'll go from there, we'll see how he's feeling and manage him from there."

Vanney was slated to speak to Defoe later Wednesday, his first conversation with the forward since he took over as manager on Aug. 31.

"We've kind of played phone tag in the past weeks," he said. "He's been in contact with Tim (Leiweke) and the rest of the crew. But now that things are getting closer, he and I are going to sit down and chat."

Also Wednesday, Vanney added Dan Calichman to a coaching staff that already included Nick Theslof, Jason Bent, Jon Conway, Michael Rabasca and Jim Liston.

Calichman is a former MLS all-star who played with Vanney at the Los Angeles Galaxy. He has been brought in to work with the Toronto defence.

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