A week ago, the rookie Toronto FC head coach welcomed Argentine Maximiliano Urruti to the club. The long-coveted youngster and his fellow countryman, Matias Laba, were to spend the rest of this disappointing season playing together with other newcomers expected to be key members of the Reds of the future, offering Nelsen and supporters a glimpse of a side poised to take a run at respectability.
But with Laba now out of the line-up for up to six weeks after breaking his big toe in a 2-0 loss in Columbus last Saturday, Nelsen's plan to finally see his core group in action is also on the shelf.
"Whether you're at the top of league or the bottom of the league, these things happen," a philosophical Nelsen said Friday before the Reds flew to Washington and a date with D.C. United on Saturday night.
"It's just life."
So, instead of testing the chemistry between Laba, 21, and Urruti, 22, Nelsen said he will use the injury to give others an opportunity to audition for a more regular role in the side.
"We've got to the stage now where we'll be putting people into the firing line," Nelsen said. "They've got to play well or we'll change the team and see what other guys can do."
Jeremy Hall, 24, is expected to be the first to get the opportunity to fill Laba's shoes in the defensive midfield position. it's a spot he patrolled regularly earlier in the season, having made 18 starts in 2013.
"It's a tough loss for the team but at the same time guys are going to have to step up and show their worth to the coach and prove that they can still contribute to the team," said Hall, who has one goal in 22 appearances after moving from defender to midfield. "I'm comfortable in there, so I'm just going to have to do what I've been doing at the beginning of the season and hopefully I can continue to do well."
Toronto (4-12-8) goes into D.C. having lost two straight matches, which came after the club posted its first two-game win streak in more than a year. The Reds won 2-1 in Washington on June 15.
While very little has gone right in 2013 for D.C. (3-17-4), the league's worst team has been given a spark by Luis Silva, 24. The California-born midfielder has scored three goals and added an assist in four appearances for United since being traded from Toronto for allocation money on July 9.
"It's sad for us that he's not going to be on our team this weekend, but he's a good player, he's done well for D.C. and we're going to have to keep an eye on him," Hall said of Silva, who leads his new club in scoring.
"I'm sure Luis is going to want to have a good one against us."
Same goes for Toronto native and former Toronto captain Dwayne De Rosario. The 35-year-old has battled injuries this season but the veteran has always been a handful for the Reds when they travel to D.C. He has six goals in three matches between the teams at RFK Stadium since he left Toronto early in the 2011 season, including a hat trick in his first match against his former side.
Saturday's match also has special significance for Toronto striker Jeremy Brockie, 25. The New Zealand native will be play his final game of a loan deal from the Wellington Phoenix of Australia's A-League.
Though he said Friday has was "disappointed" to have only scored once in his first 14 matches with the Reds after an A-League season in which he scored 16 times in 24 games, Brockie said he's enjoyed MLS and Toronto and would be happy to return as a loan after the upcoming A-League campaign.
"It's a very well-run club and all it's missing really is the playoff contention so if the possibility was to come back one day then I'd definitely be open to that," said Brockie, a New Zealand international who has two years remaining on his contract with Wellington.
Nelsen, a former teammate of Brockie's with New Zealand, said although the striker didn't find the back of the net as much as many had hoped, "he's helped out in so many ways on and off the field."
"His professionalism day-in and day-out shows the younger players what it's all about," Nelsen said.