Toronto FC's Stefan Frei leaves practice with leg injury
The drama continues for Toronto FC.
Six days after influential captain Torsten Frings limped out of the season-opening loss in Seattle with a strained hamstring, vice-captain and goalkeeper Stefan Frei left practice in pain and on crutches Friday after a freak training accident.
Frei, who has been battling Milos Kocic for the starting position, appeared to catch his leg in the grass while going after a ball during a wet training game at BMO Field.
Frei fell to the ground, curled on his side and clutching his left leg in pain. Trainers raced on to the pitch to get to him while teammates looked on.
As reporters watched from the sideline, acting captain Julian de Guzman motioned for cameras to be turned off on the sidelines — a request that was repeated by the club's PR man.
Manager Aron Winter halted the game and took the remaining players to the other end of the field while trainers worked on Frei. An air cast was placed on his leg and reporters were ushered away from the field as he was helped up.
Minutes later, he slowly hobbled on crutches into the team dressing room before being taken to hospital for evaluation.
"He went to take the ball and make a step to the other side and then he felt something," Winter said of the incident, which saw diminutive winger Joao Plata bearing down on the ball.
That was the PG-rated version. Frei went down quickly, stayed down and was clearly in a lot of pain.
Kocic had been expected to start Saturday against the visiting San Jose Earthquakes (1-1-0). Frei started the opening leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final against the Los Angeles Galaxy but Kocic has played both games since.
Toronto (0-1-0) will have to use one of the league's so called "pool" goalkeepers as an emergency backup or dip into its academy.
Winter, like his players, did not want to talk about the incident too much, given they did not know the severity of the injury.
"Stefan is a good guy, of course, and also one of the older players on the team," said Winter, while conceding the team has "been a little bit unlucky."
Kocic, who is a close friend of Frei's despite their rivalry, was clearly unsettled by the incident.
"I'm ready [to play but] it's a little bit disturbing," said the normally jovial Serb. "I want to think about the game [Saturday], I don't want to think about the injuries of Torsten, Stefan now. I just want to move forward as a team."
It rained heavily just before practice at BMO Field but was only spitting when Frei went down.
Kocic suggested that switching from practising indoors on turf, in suburban Oakville, to outdoors made it difficult for the players.
"We train indoors on turf. Now you get outdoors with wind and rain so it's a bit scrappy, it's hard to adjust after training on turf inside. "
With five games in 14 days, Toronto FC will be looking to keep Kocic healthy.
"It's a lot on my back now," he conceded. "I have to just keep my head up and work hard."
Frei, a talented 'keeper in his own right, has played 81 regular- season games for Toronto the last three seasons. But he took a backseat to Kocic as last season ended and this year seemed to be shaping up the same.
Winter has other issues to resolve in trying to fill the void left by Frings.
Judging from what training that occurred Friday, Winter may look to use de Guzman and Terry Dunfield as holding midfielders in a 4-3-3 formation.
While Frings was in the lineup, Winter was using the former German international in the middle of the backline of a fluid 3-4-3 formation.
"It's complicating playing the formation that we play with Torsten," said Kocic. "Without Torsten we have to make adjustments."
Frings is expected to be out four to six weeks.
TFC players, while clearly feeling for the latest injured teammate, stuck to the party line that they have the depth and character to survive the recent setbacks.
Still the injuries have put a damper on the excitement in advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.
"You've got to roll with the punches throughout the season, especially the beginning of the season," said defender Adrian Cann, who is nearing a return from his long-term knee injury. "Things happen. It's the depth of the team that surpasses things like that."
De Guzman perhaps put it more succinctly.
"With TFC, there's always drama," he said.
But veteran Dutch striker Danny Koevermans, while hoping Frei's prognosis was positive, had a more pragmatic approach.
"If we win [Saturday], everything's positive," he said.