Toronto FC players, staff go their separate ways during international break

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Brazilian fullback Auro plans to look for a nearby beach. Alejandro Pozuelo will be reunited with his pregnant wife in Spain. Jonathan Osorio, Richie Laryea and others are on international duty.

Toronto FC players and staff have gone their separate ways during an international break that doesn't see the club play again until June 19. While some will resume training as early as Saturday in Florida, the hope is the time apart will help the underachieving 1-4-2 team recharge and reset.

Some headed back to Toronto after Saturday's 2-1 loss at Columbus. Others returned to their pandemic home away from home in Orlando.

Coach Chris Armas plans to spend time a few days with his family in Long Island, N.Y.

"It'll be a time that we'll all use, myself included," he said of the break. "It will be important for everyone to take a step back, just for a couple of days. Which isn't always easy when you're sitting on some results that don't go our way."

"But for sure, take a step back — reset things, recharge the batteries," he added. "All of us, we come back with a vengeance. Nobody's happy with a 1-4-2 start. There's some points we leave out there. But on the inside, things are strong. On the inside of the walls, things are getting stronger. And things haven't been easy for this group. But we're going to come back and reload."

Toronto did have a rough start to the year, its training camp north of the border interrupted by a COVID-19 outbreak that sent players and staff back home to quarantine. Upon relocating to Florida, the team had to jump in the deep end with series against Mexico's Club Leon and Cruz Azul in Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League play.

Injuries have not helped the club's bid to assimilate Armas's aggressive, pressing style of play. TFC's three designated players, meanwhile, have yet to take the field together.

Due to a thigh injury suffered in pre-season, Pozuelo has played just 35 minutes so far. The reigning league MVP made his debut off the bench Saturday in Columbus. Venezuelan winger Yeferson Soteldo, acquired April 26 from Brazil's Santos FC for a transfer fee of US$6.5 million, showed flashes of his skill on the ball in four league appearances but is now sidelined for four to six weeks with a hamstring injury.

Star striker Jozy Altidore is on the outs with the club, told to train away from the first team. Apparently a confrontation with Armas after being substituted in the 70th minute of a 1-0 loss to Orlando on May 22 was the last straw in what has at times been a volatile relationship, although the club is doing its best not to air its dirty laundry in public.

The end result is that Toronto, which finished runner-up to Philadelphia in the Supporters' Shield race last season at 13-5-5, currently languishes in 25th spot in the 27-team league.

TFC has just two wins in 11 appearances (2-6-3) in all competitions. The club is tied for 15th in the league in scoring, averaging 1.14 goals a game. On defence, it ranks 26th, conceding 1.71 goals a game.

Toronto has shot itself in the foot, failing to defend set pieces. At times, it has overcommitted to offence, with its fullbacks caught up field on turnovers. In Columbus, it committed the cardinal sin of not keeping a man back on an attacking corner -- only to see Luis Diaz race the length of the field to score on a breakaway.

So the chance to get away will be appreciated.

GM Ali Curtis met his family in Columbus, leaving after Saturday's game to drive back to his suburban Toronto home. He'll eventually fly back to Orlando with other team members who elected to come north.

Centre back Eriq Zavaleta has gone to Central America to join El Salvador ahead of its World Cup qualifiers. His father Carlos was born in El Salvador and represented the country as a youth international.

Osorio and Laryea are part of John Herdman's 24-man Canada roster for World Cup qualifying games against Aruba and Suriname. TFC teammates Ayo Akinola, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Jayden Nelson, Noble Okello, Ralph Priso and Luke Singh are part of an 11-man taxi squad that will join the national team for training later this week in Orlando.

Curtis said the team planned to have Soteldo undergo treatment the next few days. Then they will look at having him fly back to Venezuela so the father of three can see his family.

Auro plans to take advantage of the Florida weather.

"I'm just going to take advantage of this break and rest," the fullback, whose family is in Brazil, said through an interpreter. "I'll probably go to the beach because it's really warm here, so I'm going to try and enjoy it. And just relax and rest."

Many players and staff have brought loved ones down to Florida with the club helping players find accommodation in townhomes and houses some 15 minute away from the team hotel.

"We're all in the same little community," said midfielder Mark Delgado, whose wife Nicky has joined him in Florida. "We're in the same little courtyard. Our families get to hang out with one anther and have barbecues with each other, it's been great in that way. It's been great to really get to know each other as well on another level.

"We've been enjoying that way. But we do miss playing at BMO Field in front of all the fans That's the thing we really miss the most. But other than that, we've been enjoying our time down here."

Zavaleta, whose partner is in Florida with him, can see the patios of Delgado and Omar Gonzalez from his digs.

"It's been a really unique experience to have families so close together, to have teammates so close together. But also have our own space," he said. "So I think that part of it has been really interesting and really good for all of us."

For Jamaican international fullback Kemar Lawrence, a former New York Red Bull who left Belgium's Anderlecht to return to Major League Soccer with Toronto, being with his family is a welcome change.

"I really enjoyed the football there (in Belgium) but in terms of getting the family there, it was really difficult," said Lawrence, whose five kids range in age from seven months to seven years.

TFC's travelling party has got its COVID vaccinations. Curtis says all of the staff have been fully vaccinated, compared to "92 per cent or higher" of the players.

Toronto's first game after the international break is June 19 against Orlando.

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Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter


This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2021.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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