But Martins has been left off head coach Stephen Keshi’s preliminary roster, a move which is not entirely surprising considering he has not been one of nearly 75 call-ups for the Super Eagles over the past year.
Some other bigger name omissions include Dynamo Kiev’s Brown Ideye, and Ikechukwu Uche of Villarreal is perhaps the biggest name missing. Keshi hasn’t selected Uche in a year after describing the player as “tactically undisciplined”, and the forward has 12 goals for the La Liga club this year, though he hasn’t scored since Jan. 25.
There are five Premier League players on the roster, with Joseph Yobo of Norwich City, Victor Moses of Liverpool, Shola Ameobi of Newcastle, John Mikel Obi of Chelsea and Peter Odemwingie of Stoke making the cut so far.
The full squad:
Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Lille); Austin Ejide (Hapoel Be’er Sheva), Daniel Akpeyi (Heartland), Chigozie Agbim (Gombe United)
Midfielders: John Mikel Obi (Chelsea); Ramon Azeez (Almeria FC); Ogenyi Onazi (SS Lazio); Joel Obi (Parma); Nnamdi Oduamadi (Varese); Ejike Uzoenyi (Enugu Rangers), Nosa Igiebor (Real Betis), Sunday Mba (CA Bastia), Reuben Gabriel (Waasland-Beveren), Michael Babatunde (Volyn Lutsk).
Forwards : Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow); Shola Ameobi (Newcastle United); Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahce); Obinna Nsofor (Chievo Verona); Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City), Michael Uchebo (Cercle Brugge); Victor Moses (Liverpool), Uche Nwofor (Heerenveen).
Players in: Bradley (signed from AS Roma), Defoe (signed from Tottenham Hotspur), Cesar (loan from QPR), De Rosario (re-entry draft), Bradley Orr (loan from Blackburn Rovers), Gilberto (signed from Internacional), Jackson (trade with FC Dallas), Justin Morrow (trade with San Jose).
Players out: Stefan Frei (rights traded to Seattle), Matias Laba (loan to Vancouver), Danny Koeverman (out of contract), Robert Earnshaw (option declined), Jonas Elmer (released), Richard Eckersley (traded to NYRB), Bobby Convey (traded to NYRB), Darel Russell (option declined), Michael Thomas (option declined), Justin Braun (out of contract)
Key player: Michael Bradley
I’d like to apologize to all the other writers on staff who had a more difficult task in choosing a key player, as TFC’s massive money man will unquestionably be the key to its success in 2014. Frankly, it would be shocking if the bulldog of a midfielder isn’t immediately a Top Five player in the league, regardless of any perceived adjustment period.
He’ll have weapons at his disposal and Bradley won’t even turn 27 until after this summer’s World Cup in Brazil (By the way, TFC is reasonably equipped to deal with his absence for the Earth’s biggest tournament).
Manager: Ryan Nelsen enters his second year in charge of the Reds after a tough 7W-11D-18L campaign, and the roster turnover isn’t shocking for anyone paying attention to the way he ran his ship in 2013. There were plenty of whispers that Nelsen had to rearrange the club’s entire on-field ethos and training habits, almost like a college coach taking over and needing to “get back to basics.” This will be a year to actually judge the New Zealand legend and he certainly shouldn’t mind that the massive influx of talent will shift the expectations to his managerial skill.
Outlook: Bright, even with the season-ending injury to depth forward Dike. As TFC prepares to take BMO Field to the next level, their team should be there in plenty of time for the enhanced facility’s completion. In terms of team selection, the Reds have plenty of choices and the addition of Orr shores up one of their biggest holes. They’ll have Cesar and Joe Bendik battling it out for net time and Steven Caldwell anchoring the back line while Bradley orchestrates the attacking, spraying the ball to any number of options.
Keep in mind the Miami Heat corollary — it could take some time for so many stars from so many backgrounds to find their role — but by the time TFC is rolling along, a playoff spot will be certain… and CN Tower beware, because the sky is the limit.
The Tweet from Toronto FC and Nigeria striker Bright Dike read, “Worst day of my life.”
It wasn’t specific, but it certainly was a harbinger of the stomach-turning news that followed. A Goal.com report says the Oklahoma-born player has suffered a torn achilles tendon and will miss the entire MLS season as well as the World Cup.
One of the first MLS signings for the Portland Timbers, Dike came back from an ACL tear in August 2013 before being acquired by Toronto in exchange for Max Urruti a month later. The prolific Notre Dame product scored once in seven matches for TFC.
When it comes to Major League Soccer’s 31st round, almost every match stood to have something to say about the coming playoffs – either in positioning or in perhaps telling us who would or wouldn’t grab one of these coveted, tightly contested berths.
One match, that is, except the real stinker of the bunch, Toronto FC against D.C. United, two teams with a combined record today (hold your nose, please, and ask any small children to leave the room, because they don’t need to see this) of 8-36-17.
Worse still, United wasn’t even coming into this one with plans to use its top men. (“Top men” being a relative term, of course; United is steaming toward some of those historic lows to which we have referenced previously.)
It was the right call for Ben Olsen, whose team travels to Utah for the mid-week U.S. Open Cup final against Real Salt Lake. If the Black and Red are to salvage anything from this season of epic woe, they’ll do so at the base of the Wasatch Mountains, inside Rio Tinto Stadium. Resting the starters makes perfect sense.
So Olsen rolled out the reserves for Saturday’s contest at BMO Field, where Toronto FC, troubled in their own ways in 2013, still had plenty of horsepower to run away with a 4-1 result. Bill Hamid, James Riley, Dejan Jakovic, Perry Kitchen, Nick DeLeon, Luis Silva, Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Pontius were among the regulars rested by the visitors.
The match was hardly worth watching – and fans once again voiced their displeasure with the bumbling Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment ownership group by staying the heck away, even on a brilliant afternoon in Ontario.
BUT … there were some dandy goals, at least. And there was some small, early measure of validation for TFC and that controversial trade that brought forward Bright Dike to BMO. More is needed, but this is a start, at least, as Dike had the game-winner and a strong all-around match.
The 35th-minute twisting effort from TFC’s Darel Russell is especially worth watching.
Highlights from Saturday at BMO Field:
Front office changes left Portland, not Toronto, with offer too good to refuse
As Joe noted earlier, Bright Dike is a handful. His lack of playing time (1060 career minutes) keeps a broader audience from knowing: He’s the most physically challenging player in the league. At 6’1″, 220 pounds of speed and muscle, the Nigerian international is a linebacker in a soccer kit. Particularly in an approach like Ryan Nelsen’s, Dike could have some serious value, provided his recovering ACL can log meaningful time soon.
But Dike’s zero minutes played since returning from surgery last year tells you almost all you need to know about today’s trade. Toronto wanted to get rid of Max Urruti – a 22-year-old who, despite the players’ four-year age difference, has scored twice as many professional goals as Dike (12 in Argentina to Dike’s six in MLS). You don’t trade a just-signed prospect you for somebody coming off knee surgery unless you just want him off the books.
“We received an offer from Portland that we could simply not pass on,” Nelsen said, somewhat bizarrely, in a statement sent out by Toronto. Perhaps the could not pass part was receiving an offer at all?
Everything indicates Toronto’s hitting eject on Urruti. Everything indicates it’s Portland, not Toronto, that were given an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Dike is cheap, he has some potential, and Portland (particularly general manager Gavin Wilkinson) likes him a lot. Having significantly invested in him — playing time; a knee surgery; and Achilles’ tendon recovery — they wouldn’t give him away for nothing. Still, there was no vision for the Timbers’ future were he was more than a third-choice striker in Caleb Porter’s system. If what Urruti showed in Argentina is any indication, he could develop into a potential starter.
“Maximiliano is a player we know well, one we feel will be a great fit in our system and scouted extensively prior to him signing with Toronto,” Porter said via a team-distributed statement. “Urruti will complement the depth we have in the striker position, and once he is acclimated and match fit, will bring a dimension to the number nine role that we’ve been looking for.”
And with that, Portland become the latest beneficiary of Toronto FC’s continued chaos. In the wake of Kevin Payne’s dismissal, TFC comes off as too eager to eject one of their former boss’s most notable signings. That they got a decent player making just over $60,000 per season is a bonus.
Their goal here seems to be to cut bait with a player who, in less than a month, has gone from key acquisition to expendable. Perhaps they learned all they need to know about Urruti from 37 MLS minutes and a month’s worth of training sessions, but given Portland were eager to add the 22-year-old Argentine to a crowded roster, Urruti appears to have maintained some fans outside the Toronto organization.
Rather than anything he showed on the field, the more likely explanation is Urruti is the latest, bizarre departure from a chronically aimless team. The direction Toronto had 10 months ago is different from the direction they had last week, which is different from the direction they have today, and will be different from the direction they’ll have under Payne’s successor. The Timbers benefit from the consequences of Toronto’s managerial turnover.
That turnover means players like Luis Silva get lost. Stars like Dwayne De Rosario, in whom so much time and energy are invested, become easy to cast off. And pursued prospects like Max Urruti are left behind when the nameplates change on the door.
As a result, a player who was playing for Newell’s Old Boys as a 20-year-old has been cut loose. Does that mean he’s bound for Major League Soccer success? Or that Toronto’s even made a bad move? Not necessarily. They may truly believe that Dike will be the better player, or he will be good enough to justify the presumed offset in salary. They may think taking on Urruti allowed them to get a cheap, distinct talent, one that was worth the sacrifice of a player they liked so much a month ago.
The fact that this vision is so much different from last month’s is the real story. And given the two players’ history, there’s every reason to think this isn’t about how much TFC likes Dike; rather, it’s a confused organization cutting another a player lose.
As it concerns Urruti, Portland seems more than willing to bet Payne was right.