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Toronto FC star Jermain Defoe aggravates groin injury, won't play against Impact

10/17/2014 12:06 EDT | Updated 12/17/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Toronto FC fans may have seen the last of Jermain Defoe.

The 32-year-old England striker has aggravated a groin injury and will miss Saturday's home finale against the Montreal Impact. His status for the season finale in New England is up in the air, as is his future in Major League Soccer given the speculation over his status at the end of the last transfer window.

Defoe insists he is happy in Toronto. But he has not looked beyond this season, saying he can't predict the future. The door to the rest of the soccer world swings opens again in January.

Toronto coach Greg Vanney has sympathy for Defoe's physical woes, having suffered a similar injury (osteitis pubis) while playing in France.

"Once it inflames, it is a debilitating injury," Vanney said after practice Friday. "And it takes months to heal. Some players will end up in surgery and some players will miss a full season. If it's anything similar to that, then I understand his plight.

"Aside from that. I think he's a true professional. And at the end of the day, he doesn't feel 100 per cent, he doesn't feel he can give what he's capable of giving and therefore he needs to get right."

Defoe has played in the last three games since missing nine of the 10 previous matches due to the groin injury. He looked like his range-finder was off, missing a penalty and lacking sharpness.

"I think between the groin injury and the migration of the pain and the inflammation, they're not exactly sure what it is," Vanney said of the injury. "Either way it's going to take him some time to really get over it."

Defoe, who has not had a break other than injury in back-to-back seasons in England and North America, was one day from undergoing hernia surgery during his last layoff.

The former Spurs star has missed 12 games through injury and one through suspension in his debut MLS season.

He collected 11 goals and two assists in 1,169 minutes of play in the team's first 17 games of the season. He has no points in 360 minutes of play in the 15 games since.

Still he is Toronto's leading scorer with 11 goals in 19 games. And it speaks volumes about Toronto's sad-sack history that Defoe already stands No. 5 on Toronto's all-time scoring list.

Still a healthy Defoe has been a considerable weapon. Toronto is 6-0-2 when he scores this season. Unfortunately he has not scored since July 17 — 16 games ago. And his goals have come at a cost — US$561,816 per strike.

Overall, Toronto (11-14-7) is 6-7-6 when Defoe plays this season.

Injuries to both Defoe and Brazil's Gilberto hampered their time and ability to forge a strike partnership. The two designated players have done better alongside England's Luke Moore, who can hold the ball up and plays others into the attack than they have together although there hasn't been much service other than from Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio.

While Defoe has shown he can score in MLS, he has been less successful in becoming the face of the franchise. Tim Leiweke, the outgoing CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, wanted an ambassador as well as a striker for his US$6.18-million salary outlay this season.

Leiweke only got one and it seems clear that he and Defoe had different designated player job descriptions.

Defoe did not help himself by flying to England for treatment and then failing to address the rampant speculation over his future during his last injury absence. Two tweets didn't do much to win over a weary fan base that has heard too many snake-oil pitches.

One wonders just how happy Defoe has been here, despite the fact that Toronto FC has by all reports bent over backwards to help him settle in. Defoe's locker stall usually featured two cellphones, presumably one for North America and one for Britain. It may make fiscal sense but it hardly screams settling in.

Defoe has been pleasant to deal with, although it is clear the media access in North America is completely foreign — and somewhat bewildering — to him. If he was briefed on having to expect cameras in his face while he towels off, the message didn't get through.

He comes across as someone who just wants to play soccer. Just perhaps, not here.

If that's the case, he's allowed — especially given the departure or impending exit of the people who brought him here. Fans just want some clarity, so they know who to cheer for.

Defoe won't be the only high-profile Toronto FC absentee Saturday at BMO Field. Bradley, the team's other marquee player, is suspended for accumulation of yellow cards. And, perhaps in a symbol of the franchise's run of luck this season, rookie defender Nick Hagglund is both injured and suspended.

Toronto enters the weekend in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, six points behind the Columbus Crew (12-10-10). In order to make the playoffs for the first time, Toronto needs to gain maximum points against Montreal and New England and hope the Crew lose their remaining games against New York and Philadelphia.

It's possible but improbable, although Toronto sees a sliver of hope.

"We know that there's a crack in the door for us," said Vanney.

"Crazier things have happened in this league," added Bradley.

"Stranger things have happened," echoed captain Steven Caldwell.

Should Toronto win Saturday, it will have to wait a day to see how Columbus fares against the Red Bulls.

Sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, Montreal (6-18-8) is looking to play spoiler.

"Our main focus is to get a result to knock them out of the playoffs," said goalkeeper Evan Bush. "With the rivalry we have with them, it would be special to knock them out. They tried to do it to us last year and they didn't feel bad about it."

Toronto has lost three straight, during which it has been outscored 7-1. Montreal, meanwhile, has been beaten just once in its last five outings (2-1-2) in all competitions.

Former Impact midfielder Collen Warner is expected to replace Bradley in a Toronto midfield featuring Osorio, Warren Creavalle and Brazil's Jackson. Doneil Henry steps in for Hagglund at centre back. Moore and Gilberto will start up front.

Montreal star striker Marco Di Vaio is available despite travelling to Italy for the midweek announcement that his old club Bologna is being bought by a consortium that includes Impact owner Joey Saputo.

Notes: Toronto blanked Montreal 2-0 on goals by Gilberto and Moore when the teams met Aug. 2 at Saputo Stadium. ... Since joining the league, the Impact have never won in Toronto with two losses and three draws over five meetings in all competitions at BMO Field. Montreal did defeat Toronto 2-1 on aggregate in the final of the Amway Canadian Championship. ... Toronto did not appeal Hagglund's red card last week against New York.

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