03/23/2014 11:03 EDT | Updated 05/23/2014 05:59 EDT

Jermain Defoe scoring for Toronto FC and strengthening his case for England

TORONTO - Every goal Jermain Defoe scores for Toronto FC helps the MLS club climb out of the soccer sinkhole that was its home for the last seven seasons.

But each goal celebration also means that the 31-year-old striker may be a step closer to the England World Cup squad, taking him away from Toronto.

Unlike his final days at Tottenham, Defoe is the first name on the team sheet in Toronto. And with three goals in just two MLS games, Defoe was tied for the league lead in scoring going into play Sunday despite the fact Toronto (2-0-0) has already had a bye.

Despite a poor pitch, the five-foot-seven 143-pound Defoe could have scored five goals Saturday. Instead he settled for the winner in a 1-0 victory over D.C. United.

He hit the post once and was a threat every time he got the ball near the penalty box.

"When it falls for a player of his quality — and you'll see (it) with (Brazilian strike partner) Gilberto as well — you're surprised when it kind of doesn't go in," said Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen.

"It might have been, again no disrespect, probably the other way — surprised if it did go in in the past (with previous TFC strikers)."

While Nelsen wants his English star to succeed and knows that as Defoe goes, so will Toronto, there must be a small part of him that wants to retain Defoe's services for the entire season.

"I've got to watch what I say here because if I was (England manager) Roy Hodgson I'd pick him in a heartbeat," Nelsen said with a wry smile. "But if I'm Ryan Nelsen, I probably might be thinking another thing.

"Over his career, he's just got a natural ability to do what you've seen out there (Saturday) and what you saw last week. And look, he's not going to score every game, he's going to have these (off) games as all human beings do.

"If he keeps this up, he can't do anything more as a striker, can he? But we've got to help him get even better. We've got to try to improve him in every way we can. So if he does get that call-up, like Michael (Bradley), like Julio (Cesar), that they're ready and they're going to represent their country."

Bradley, an influential midfielder for the U.S. and Cesar, Brazil's goalie, are both dead certs to be called up for the June 12-July 13 World Cup.

Defoe is battling a group of England strikers that includes Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge and Southampton's Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez (who scored in front of Hodgson on Sunday in a game against Tottenham).

The Toronto FC forward has 19 goals in his 55 England appearances. But only Lambert, at 32 is older. If Rooney, Sturridge and Welbeck are the main men, then there might be an inclination to take along a younger striker with an eye to the future.

The other argument is experience is a good thing. Especially when the veteran is in a rich vein of goal-scoring form.

MLS has scheduled a two-week break between June 11-25, which essentially covers the first round of the World Cup. Sixteen teams will go home after that.

Toronto hosts the San Jose Earthquakes on June 7 and visits the New York Red Bulls on June 27. It has seven league games scheduled in July.

While Toronto has strengthened its starting 11 substantially this season, it lacks cover. Losing stars to the World Cup — or injury — will take its toll. The good news is that Joe Bendik, last year's starter in goal, is waiting in the wings for when Cesar rejoins Brazil.

Hodgson is slated to name his 30-man provisional squad before a May 30 friendly with Peru at London's Wembley Stadium. England will then travel to Miami to play exhibition games against Ecuador on June 4 and Honduras on June 7 before travelling to Brazil.

So TFC's World Cup players will likely need time off before the tournament and definitely after. Having represented New Zealand at the World Cup, Nelsen knows firsthand the toll the tournament can take on players.

In the meantime, Toronto is winning games it probably wouldn't have last season.

And it's not just the high-priced additions like Defoe, Bradley, Gilberto and Cesar leading the way. Canadians Doneil Henry and Jonathan Osorio are key parts of the starting 11 while captain Steve Caldwell, a hard-nosed Scot, continues to lead from the back.

Nelsen says there is a new hardness and determination to his team.

"That game would really probably have been a banana skin for us last year, definitely," he said of the D.C. United clash.

Toronto's next outing, a road game against Real Salt Lake (1-0-2) next Saturday, presents a stiffer test. Toronto is 1-5-0 in Utah.