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Wileman: TFC's Spurs friendly will be taxing but necessary

Luke Wileman, TSN.ca
7/23/2014 12:47:53 PM
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At Tuesday's pre-match press conference, Toronto FC Head Coach Ryan Nelsen attempted to explain to the English media the difficulty of having to play a mid-season friendly against Tottenham Hotspur at this particular time of the year.

“It would be like us playing a game in the Christmas period when you're third in the league and you've got Man City to play on Saturday,” he said.

The timing couldn't be much worse.

The Champions – Sporting Kansas City - are due in town on Saturday, as Nelsen's team moves through its busiest month of the MLS season with seven league games during the month of July. He's already without some of his key players through injury, including captain Steven Caldwell and starting right back Mark Bloom.

But whatever problems are posed by playing the extra game, I agree with Michael Bradley's assessment of the situation. International friendlies are of benefit to Major League Soccer and the growth of the game in North America. While they are certainly far from ideal, they are here to stay, and they have an important role to play.

For a start, Wednesday's game against Tottenham is about much more than welcoming international opposition. This match is part of a four-year marketing and commercial deal struck between the two clubs as part of Jermain Defoe's transfer. For both Toronto FC and Spurs, it's about the bigger picture. Soccer is a global game, and a big part of achieving success is about building and managing relationships, not just within your own league, but around the world.

As Toronto FC – and MLS as a whole – aims to continue its rapid growth, international friendlies are an important piece of the puzzle as they provide an opportunity to get a wider circle of attention both in the local community, across North America, and in other countries as well.

From a playing perspective it can also have a positive impact. It's a chance for some of the squad players to get a competitive game, and for some of the club's youngsters to test themselves against a standard of opposition they wouldn't usually face.

In 2010 when Toronto FC played Bolton Wanderers at BMO Field, the Man of the Match was a young teenager who hadn't even signed a professional contract at that stage. Doneil Henry has gone on to become a first team regular with the club who has aspirations of playing in Europe. That Bolton match was an early stepping stone for the Canadian international.

As he sat alongside Spurs star Christian Eriksen and manager Mauricio Pochettino at BMO Field on Tuesday, Henry said: “This is where I want to be and where I want to play one day. I just want to learn and show what I can do.” So this match is another opportunity for him to prove himself.

We likely won't see much of Toronto's leading players against Spurs. Ryan Nelsen needs to be cautious, and rightly so. He will give some of his starters 45 minutes, and rest others completely. But for a number of men within his squad this game will provide a chance to shine and it will be interesting to see if they can take it.

Tottenham arrived in Toronto on Monday direct from Seattle where they tied the Sounders 3-3 in an entertaining game in the first game of their three-match North American tour. They are without their World Cup players who have been given extra time to rest, and last year's leading scorer Emmanuel Adebayor who is recovering in London following a mild bout of malaria. But young Danish star Christian Eriksen is expected to see his first action of preseason as Spurs continue to prepare for the Premier League's opening weekend in mid-August.

Last year Spurs finished sixth in the English top flight, but are under new management with a new direction after Mauricio Pochettino's arrival from Southampton. Eriksen was pretty blunt when asked what Tottenham will need to improve upon this season, with consistency the theme.

“We had some really good games and some really bad games,” he said. “For us it's about being more stable and also getting points against the big teams.”

Watch Toronto FC vs. Tottenham Hotspur live tonight on TSN at 7pm et/4pm pt.

Luke Wileman

Luke Wileman


Luke Wileman is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca.

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