Depleted by injuries and players away on international duty, Toronto FC coach Bob Bradley has dipped into his reserve team to make up numbers Saturday in San Jose.
Bradley has summoned a pair of midfielders — 18-year-old Markus Cimermancic and 23-year-old Alonso Coello Camarero — on short-term loans from Toronto FC II. TFC will be missing eight players, including five starters, for the game against the Earthquakes.
Toronto (1-1-2) has five players on international duty, with fullback Richie Laryea, midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Mark-Anthony Kaye and forward Ayo Akinola with Canada and backup goalkeeper Tomas Romero with El Salvador.
Unlike other top leagues, MLS does not always pause during FIFA international windows.
"It's tough for us," Osorio said before leaving to join Canada for games against Curaçao and Honduras. "Obviously we want to be here for every game for our club. But then again we also want to play every game for our country as well.
"I think the MLS has to do something about the scheduling. I understand it's already a packed schedule. Now they've added the Leagues Cup, which is a good thing, I think, for the league. But at the same time in Europe they find a way to have an international break. And over here I feel like they have to do the same … And It can't be that every team in the league is playing during this international break and missing key players. Going forward, that's not fair."
Italian star winger Lorenzo Insigne (groin), forward Adama Diomande (hamstring) and newly acquired fullback Cristian Gutierrez (non-COVID illness) are also unavailable.
Insigne has not played since the Feb. 25 season opener, when he hobbled off in the 34th minute.
Bradley dismissed social media speculation that the Italian, the league's highest-paid player, is not happy in Toronto.
"I see Lorenzo every day," Bradley said. "He comes in a good way. He's been good in the group.
"Obviously in this last stretch, when he can't play, he's a little bit more frustrated. And when rumours pop up and nobody really does much to check sources and stuff like that, that's just not stuff that we usually think about or talk about — especially when day-in, day-out within the group you get a good feel for how everybody's doing."
San Jose (2-2-0) is without defender Miguel Trauco (Peru) and midfielder/designated player Jamiro Monteiro (Cape Verde).
In addition to Monteiro, the Quakes midfield has been hurt by injuries to Ecuador international Carlos Gruezo, one of San Jose's designated players, who left in the first half of last week's 3-0 loss to St. Louis, and Brazilian Judson, who had yet to play this season due to a knee issue.
That could open the door to former Whitecaps midfielder Michael Baldisimo, who has made two substitute appearances this season and replaced Gruezo in St. Louis.
Brazilian goalkeeper Daniel, who started the first two games of the season, has been sidelined by a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee suffered in training. J.T. Marcinkowski, the starter last year, has started in goal the last two games.
San Jose opened the season with a painful 2-1 loss in Atlanta that saw it concede 93rd and 99th-minute goals to Argentine star Thiago Almada. The Quakes bounced back with a pair of home wins — 2-1 over Vancouver and 1-0 over Colorado — before falling in St. Louis, the fourth straight victim of the upset-minded expansion team.
Despite the losses, it's a promising start for a club that finished 26th in the Supporters' Shield standings last season at 8-15-11, just one point ahead of Toronto (9-18-7).
Toronto endured a rocky season opener itself, giving up 90th- and 98th-minute goals in a 3-2 loss at D.C. United before recording 1-1 draws in Atlanta and against Columbus. TFC downed visiting Inter Miami 2-0 last weekend to get into the win column.
"They had a strong performance against Miami and I'm sure they going to be hungry to gain momentum," said San Jose coach Luchi Gonzalez, a former FC Dallas head coach and U.S. assistant coach who took over the Quakes last August. "They're a good team. In pre-season we had a very tough (closed session) game against them. Obviously they were figuring their personnel out and their form. We were doing the same.
"But this is a very good team. Very good midfielders that can combine, connect, create. I know we both have some challenges in terms of call-ups and injuries. But I'm sure they want to show their depth and we want to show ours the same. When Bob Bradley's head-coaching any team, that team's going to be competing at the highest level in our league. So we expect a very difficult game.
"And coming off our last result, we certainly want to move forward quickly and show a short memory and respond with our own desired performance against Toronto."
San Jose is unbeaten in its last five home (2-0-3) matches against TFC, whose last win at the Quakes was in May 2010.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2023.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press