Defoe, 32, joined Toronto from Tottenham Hotspur ahead of the 2014 MLS season for a reported $10 million [£6.4 million] and made an impressive start to his spell, scoring 11 goals in his first 13 games.
Recurring groin and hernia injuries saw the former England international make just six further appearances from July onwards, however, as the club missed out on a first-ever play-off spot following a disastrous meltdown over the finals months of the campaign.
Reports that he was attempting to engineer a move back to the Premier League after becoming unsettled also emerged during that time [h/t Globe and Mail], as fans and the media alike began to question whether the claimed injuries were just a mask for his disinterest.
TFC eventually sold their star Designated Player in January in a swap deal that saw Jozy Altidore head in the opposite direction, but Defoe maintains that his exit had nothing to do with homesickness or a failure to live up to expectations, like some local beat reporters claimed.
Speaking to some of those same reporters ahead of facing his old club in tonight’s pre-season matchup at BMO Field, the Black Cats forward told Sportsnet: “To be honest, the first month or so, the first 10 or 11 games, it was good. It was quite simple—I got an injury.
“At the time I didn’t know what the problem was. I started missing games [because] I was going back and forth to London to find out what the problem was. The manager at the time, Ryan [Nelsen], was really helpful because he had a similar problem to me.
“But the thing that disappointed me was that there was stuff being written about me at the time. There were some things I didn’t really understand because I was getting criticized for missing games. I can stand here now and tell you the reason why I missed games was because the abductor muscle ripped off the bone and I was playing with a hernia for three months.
“When I finally got the operation I couldn’t come back… Sunderland came in I decided to change clubs.”
Nevertheless, Defoe also insisted that has some good memories of his time in Toronto, while head coach Grey Vanney, who managed him for the final stretch of 2014 after Ryan Nelsen’s sacking, stresses that there are no hard feelings.
“Bygones be bygones,” said Vanney. “You have to put that stuff behind you. Everybody moves on and we wish him well. You hope his experience coming back [to Toronto] is a good one, but we like our team now and we like the direction we’re headed.”
Defoe went on to score just four times in 19 games for Sunderland over the second half of the 2014-15 season but, despite his underwhelming form, the Black Cats still managed to avoid the drop under Dick Advocaat’s stewardship.
Altidore, meanwhile, has been dealing with fitness problems of his own in Toronto of late, having been struggling to recover from a recent hamstring strain, but the US international has grabbed six goals in 13 matches when able to take to the pitch.
More significant for the Canadian outfit, though, has been the addition of former Juventus forward Sebastian Giovinco, who was brought in with the funds freed up from Defoe’s departure and since proved a revelation, looking like the clear MVP favourite through 18 games with 12 goals and nine assists.
Defoe himself could well have become a star in North America if he had just persevered but, given the performances of their new DPs, one gets the impression that TFC will be none too bothered to see him in the opposing line-up for tonight's matchup.