01/14/2015 07:22 EST | Updated 03/16/2015 05:59 EDT

Toronto FC coach says Jermain Defoe, on his game, was best in MLS

PHILADELPHIA - The outcry started before Jermain Defoe officially left the Toronto FC books.

Carpetbagger. Bloody big embarrassment. Perhaps the biggest high-profile bust in recent Toronto sports history.

And there was worse.

Toronto FC fans may grit their teeth at the 32-year-old Defoe's comments to the Daily Mirror after passing a medical and working out Wednesday for Sunderland.

"I felt so sharp," said Defoe, whose lone season in Toronto was cut short by injuries. "All that hard work has paid off. I can't wait to start scoring goals for Sunderland.

"Everybody knows how much I love English football and I still feel that I have a lot to offer. People might look at my age, but I have always looked after myself and I hope I can show that with my performances."

Sunderland visits Defoe's old stomping grounds on Saturday when it plays at Tottenham.

Amidst the vitriol, Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney chooses to think of the positives of Defoe's time in MLS.

"When he was motivated and focused and healthy, he was for me the best player in the league, the best striker in the league," Vanney said Wednesday ahead of the MLS SuperDraft.

"I think he was scoring a goal every two shots. Arguably if we could have got him more chances, it would have maybe even have been crazy the number of goals he could have scored."

Defoe scored 11 goals in his first 13 games in MLS. But the England star didn't connect again, missing 12 of the next 18 games through injury or suspension.

"At some point in the season between national team stuff, injury, a number of things, there was an appearance of sort of a lack of motivation to still be there," Vanney said. "And maybe we didn't see exactly the best of him and maybe a lot of that had to do with injury, I don't know what percentage was what. But clearly when he was motivated and on his game, there have been few strikers if any in our league that have been as good as him.

"We wouldn't have won as many games at the beginning of the year if we didn't have him, that's for sure. He definitely carried more than his fair share early on in the season. And I think that had some of us thinking that we were really on path to have a great season. And really without Jermain we would not have been in the same place.

"And so all the other stuff that happened is obviously a long story and a sage and everything else. But on his game he was fantastic, that's true."

Ryan Nelsen, the former TFC manager and ex-Premier League player who helped bring Defoe to Toronto, also spoke highly of the striker.

"He is a great player and myself, more than anyone, wished he stayed and scored goals for Toronto," he told The Canadian Press in a text. "But this happens in football. The key is to maximize the situation by being creative in the market to benefit the club moving forward."

The anger at Defoe seems more motivated by the "It's a Bloody Big Deal" campaign Toronto ran around Defoe's arrival — a full-on marketing campaign that, like the team, did not deliver.

The England striker also never became the face of the franchise as perhaps ownership intended.


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