TORONTO – Irish defender Darren O’Dea has a cold and isn’t too sure when to sleep after travelling 10 times zones last week to play for Ireland in a World Cup qualifier in Kazakhstan.
But Toronto FC (5-16-6) is happy to have him back, bleary-eyed and sniffly or not, as the Chicago Fire (13-8-5) come to visit Wednesday.
Toronto is down a few hands with Terry Dunfield and Ashtone Morgan (Canada), Ryan Johnson and Dicoy Williams (Jamaica) and Quillan Roberts and Oscar Cordon (Canada under-20) all away on international duty.
Freddy Hall and Reggie Lambe have been with Bermuda but are expected to be back in time for Wednesday’s MLS game. French striker Eric Hassli, meanwhile, practised Monday after being sidelined with a rib injury.
With Hall and Roberts away and Milos Kocic celebrating the birth of triplets (two boys and a girl) on Sunday night, Toronto had to use an academy ‘keeper and goalie coach Stewart Kerr at practice Monday.
Kocic is expected to be back for the Chicago game.
O’Dea, meanwhile, was at practice Monday after forcing himself to stay up for most of Sunday.
“I picked up a cold as well,” he said. “It’s been a tough week.
“But I’ve said (it) before, I’d prefer to be doing that â€” seeing different parts of the world playing football than sitting behind a desk.”
After a 2-1 loss in Kansas City on Sept. 1, O’Dea flew back with the team to Toronto. They arrived in the evening and O’Dea stayed at the airport, waiting for a flight to Ireland.
He was in Ireland for a day and a half before travelling nine more hours and five time zones to Kazakhstan.
“It basically just turned my whole day around,” he explained. “I was sleeping in the day and awake at night. I played, then I had a 17-hour round trip to get back here.
“It will be the toughest one I do,” he added of the marathon trip with the national team. “I wouldn’t want to be doing that very often.”
An 89th-minute penalty and stoppage time goal saved No. 26 Ireland’s blushes in a 2-1 win over the 142nd-ranked Kazaks.
The 25-year-old O’Dea (pronounced O’Dee) will be making his fifth appearance for Toronto since signing Aug. 3. With Torsten Frings out injured, Toronto wasted little time giving the Irish international the captain’s armband.
Assistant coach Jason Bent liked what he saw of O’Dea in training Monday despite his hectic travel schedule.
“He looked sharp, he looked lively,” said Bent. “You can see from his training he’s just so strong and vocal. And that’s something we need to get more of in this club â€” players that are vocal on the pitch. Not just rah-rah but good information and coaching all the time, organizing people.
“For me, he’s been fantastic with that, with his communication and leadership. And he attacks the ball.”
Bent pointed to a play at the beginning of the Sporting Kansas City game when the six-foot-one 180-pounder took on a KC attacker, separating the ball from the attacking and mashing the ball away.
“Strikers don’t want to play against that week in and week out,” Bent said.
O’Dea, who started his career for Celtic before loan spells in England with Reading, Ipswich Town and Leeds United, isn’t sure why the MLS can’t follow FIFA’s international calendar more faithfully to ease the burden on players.
“It’s stupid,” he said.
“Fair enough you can’t accommodate all countries but at least you could accommodate your own (Canada and the U.S.),” he added.
He is skipping Ireland’s friendly against Oman on Tuesday in London to play for his club.
O’Dea says he has found the standard of play in MLS to be better than what most people think in Britain.
“In a few years people will know, because the information is getting there and the coverage is getting there,” he said. “I’ve loved it. Obviously results-wise it hasn’t been great but I think we’ve not been playing too badly. We’re close, we’re nearly there. It’s just getting over the finishing line.
“Hopefully we can start by getting a good result Wednesday.”
Toronto could use one. Mired in the league basement, the team has not won since July 18 when it beat Colorado 2-1. TFC has gone 0-5-2 in MLS play since.
NOTES â€” Toronto had former Sheffield Wednesday defender Luke Boden in camp Monday on a tryout … Former Canada captain Paul Stalteri, looking fit and trim, made a social visit to practice to see former teammate Jim Brennan, now a TFC assistant coach. Out of contract in Germany and restored to health after hip surgery, the 34-year-old Stalteri is looking for a new club … TFC used a glistening new practice pitch at its training facility in Downsview for the first time Monday. … Striker Danny Koevermans (knee) is off crutches and walking gingerly while goalie Stefan Frei (ankle, leg) is running.