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As Quentin Westberg got up to leave the media room at the BMO Training Ground on Friday, the Toronto FC goalkeeper joked to a reporter: “Can you pass me my cane, please?”
That got a good laugh. Just seconds before, the writer had asked the personable keeper — who is on the final year of his TFC contract — if he still planned on playing after this season.
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Westberg, 36, assured the media that he certainly was, even though there’s a very good chance that the match against Inter Miami on Friday could be the last game at BMO Field for himself and other Toronto FC players.
With a record of 9W-16L-7D, and eliminated from playoff contention with two regular season games left, it’s certain that there will be changes made to the Toronto roster heading into the 2023 MLS season — and both Westberg and fellow keeper Alex Bono could be part of those changes.
So even though the match Friday means little to Toronto in terms playoff implications, certain players will no doubt head on to the field looking to prove that they deserve to come back.
The Reds will also be playing for pride. The game is Fan Appreciation Night and the last thing the players want to do to show their appreciation to the BMO Field faithful is lay an egg — especially given that Friday’s contest marks the return of former TFC star attacking midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo.
Nobody said as much, but you know the Toronto players, coaches and front office do not want ‘The Maestro’ to come into BMO Field and put on a big show and rub TFC’s nose in it.
In July, Pozuelo was traded to The Herons for $150,000 in General Allocation Money as well as additional conditional GAM depending on certain performance metrics. On paper, TFC didn’t seem to get equal in the deal. Pozuelo has scored two goals and has added six assists in 11 games for Miami and has helped electrify Miami striker Gonzalo Higuain, who has scored in each of The Herons’ last three games (four goals), including a stoppage-time winner against DC United on Sept.18. Higuain is the first player in that club’s history to score in three straight MLS matches.
“Ale’s still capable at every given moment of making a clever pass, a clever play,” TFC coach Bob Bradley said of Pozuelo. “He’s got a good relationship with Higuain and I think you could see that right away. I think he’s helped them since he’s arrived.”
Bradley has to find a way to get his team to play at the highest level possible on Friday, despite the fact that the Reds are done when the final regular season match of the season ends on Oct. 9 at the Philadelphia Union. The Herons (12W-13L-6D, 42 points) are in a battle to remain in playoff position in the MLS Eastern Conference. With three games remaining in the regular season, Inter Miami is clinging to the seventh and final playoff spot in the East — so you know the south Floridians will bring their best game to BMO Field.
“The end of a season when you’re not still competing to be in the playoffs, it’s challenging to keep everybody going every day. To keep them alive,” Bradley admitted, adding that his club’s development didn’t end when the team was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
“I have a simple starting point: To become a good team, it’s not like there’s a beginning date and an end date. It’s continuous. And that also means as a player, your development is continuous,” said the coach. “Every training session is an opportunity to take little things that have been thrown at you. (So) go on the field and be alive and try to be at the highest level you can be.
“I think we’ve had good training sessions (during the recent international break). Has everybody been where I want them everyday? No, we’re not there yet,” Bradley added. “(But) there’s still, as always, a group of guys that are always committed, always professional, always ready to play, love playing in front of the fans in the Toronto, and know that (Friday) is the last chance for this year. I expect that’s going to help set the tone for the others.
“Playing at BMO is very special for us so we’re going to bring that intensity for sure (on Friday),” added Westberg. “We want to leave on a high note. We want to enjoy one more great evening with our fans and just kind of thank them for the support throughout the season.”
OSORIO STILL STRUGGLING
Midfielder Jonathan Osorio did not train on Thursday and is ruled out for Friday’s game as he is still dealing with what he called “neurological dysfunction” after taking an elbow to his head during a game against the Chicago Fire on July 13.
Sadly, it’s quite possible Osorio’s MLS season is over.
The big question is whether TFC’s career appearance leader (318) can get back in full health in time for the World Cup in November. The Brampton native missed Canada’s two friendlies earlier this week in Europe and was not able to take part in the national team camp.
AROUND THE PITCH
TFC certainly does not want to set a record of futility on Friday. The Reds’ 4-0 loss to Orlando City on Sept. 17 (the club’s last game) was the third straight match the club allowed four goals — becoming the fourth team in MLS history to do so. No team has allowed four goals in more than three straight matches in MLS history … Federico Bernardeschi has scored in each of his first five home games with TFC. Two players in MLS history have scored in their first six home league games — Joe-Max Moore for New England in 1996 and Mamadou Diallo for Tampa Bay in 2000.
BUFFERY: Weather hasn't been kind to Inter Miami
Osorio absent from full Toronto FC training on Friday