TORONTO - Toronto FC trained under grey skies Tuesday, minus its two biggest names and with just one meaningless game remaining.
English striker Jermain Defoe was rehabbing a groin injury that appears to have ended his season prematurely while Michael Bradley was seeing a doctor for a foot issue. The American midfielder had a minor procedure on his foot earlier in the season but is expected to play Saturday in New England.
Head coach Greg Vanney said he will field his strongest available team against the playoff-bound Revolution.
"We want to go into an off-season with a win, ideally," said Vanney.
New England (16-13-4) has little to play for given it has already clinched second place in the Eastern Conference and cannot move up or down. It will await other weekend results to see if it plays Sporting Kansas City, the Columbus Crew or New York Red Bulls in the conference semifinals.
While the Revolution wonder what lies ahead, Toronto was forced to revisit another disappointing season Tuesday.
Toronto (11-14-8) was officially eliminated from post-season contention after a 1-1 draw with visiting Montreal last Saturday, a result that prompted a larger than usual media contingent to pick over the carcass at the club's first availability of the week.
"Can you believe how this (season) has kind of unravelled?" was one question.
"When do you think the train went off the tracks?"
"What's missing with this club?"
For veteran observers of the club, it was deja vu all over.
Toronto has set single-season franchise records for wins (11) and points (41) but failed in its most important goal — making the playoffs for the first time since coming into the league in 2007
"We felt we amassed a playoff side and we never achieved it, so we've let the city down in a sense and we've let ourselves down," said captain Steven Caldwell.
Toronto heads into the off-season with question marks over Defoe and fellow designated player Gilberto. The Brazilian striker was forced to deny a report that came out last week that he was unhappy and wanted out of the club.
"The rumours aren't true," he said through an interpreter.
But while saying he was happy in Toronto, he acknowledged his future here was not necessarily in his hands.
"It's up to the club, the GM and the coach about next season, what they want to do with the team. So it's not in my hands."
Defoe, whose future with the club has been up in the air since Toronto turned down a club-record transfer bid for him at the end of the last transfer window, declined to speak to reporters Tuesday.
The club has already said that Vanney, whose record is 2-5-2 since taking over from the fired Ryan Nelsen in late August, will be back at the helm next season.
Job No. 1 remains changing the team culture on and off the field. More is needed everywhere.
"In order to develop this culture of winning, I think we all need to be better," Vanney said. "We need to expect more of ourselves and we need to push for that every single day. And we're going to look for and push our core group of players to understand and take onboard what all that means.
"So we're all going to have to do a little more in this off-season to be better coming into next season. And we will have a very clear plan and direction of where we (are) going and we're only looking for people who want to push in that direction and are willing to put everything aside to get that done.
"The club, the fans, the ownership deserve success out of this organization and we're going to put forward everything we can to move it in that direction."
It has been a common theme of late, with Vanney making it clear that the team must be of one mind.
"What I think is important is that we have players that are here that want to be here, don't want to be anywhere else but here and not for just one year but for a minimum of a few years,'' Vanney said last week.
Bradley seemed to be on the same page, in comments after a 3-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls earlier in the month.
"It's important that the right balance is found between keeping a good part of the group together and making sure that the guys who have the right mentality, who have the right commitment, who really bring something every day in a footballing sense — that those guys are here and given every chance to continue to grow together and improve,'' he said.
On Tuesday, Vanney seemed to muddy the waters a bit.
"I'm pretty sure that most of the guys want to be here," Vanney said. "If there are guys who don't want to be here, they haven't told me directly."
Asked why all the talk about needing players who want to be here if they all do, Vanney replied: "Because people keep asking me."
Asked if he was seeing the desired commitment from all his players in games and at practice, Vanney gave a qualified yes.
"I have seen the commitment from everybody, yes," he said. "We're always pushing guys who are injured to give us a little more, we're always pushing guys who we think we can get a little bit more out of and obviously there are moments — which I think is part of the culture thing — where guys take plays off in training and those are the moments we have to get out of.
"We need the best of everybody all the time."
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