It is currently December 19th. At this time of the year Toronto FC are normally in the search for a new coach and have only managed to gut their roster so far without really adding any pieces. This year though they have already added a number of pieces for 2014 and are close to having a stable roster heading into the season. It all seems new for a club that has become synonymous with player turnover.
Toronto FC have parted ways with six players so far this offseason either through trades, declining contract options, or contracts ending. That is actually comparable to other MLS teams in terms of turnover but the good part is that TFC have already added four players who could potentially be starters for the team next season and it is not even Christmas yet.
So just who have Toronto FC parted ways with so far this offseason:
M Michael Thomas (11/29/13 - option declined)
M Darel Russell (11/29/13 - option declined)
F Robert Earnshaw (11/29/13 - option declined)
F Justin Braun (12/9/13 - out of contract)
GK Stefan Frei (12/10/13 - trade to Seattle)
M Bobby Convey (12/13/13 - trade to New York)
From that list you have two players that only made a single MLS appearance in 2013 but you also have four players who featured fairly regularly in the lineup. Earnshaw led the way for the group with 26 league appearances, Convey and Braun made 21 each, and Russell made 18 appearances in league play. That is a lot of minutes for the team to replace as well as having to replace the leading assist getter (Convey) and leading scorer (Earnshaw) from 2013.
It is a lot to try and replace but when you look around the league transaction list Toronto FC's players out is one of the shorter ones. Sporting Kansas City (3) and LA Galaxy (4) have the shortest lists but TFC are right in line with the bulk of MLS teams this offseason having let go of 5 or 6 players so far.
The good news is that not a single player on that list is actually all that hard to replace or upgrade. The likes of Frei, Earnshaw, and Convey are the easiest to replace because of the salaries that they would have made in 2014. Toronto already replaced Frei when they added Kris Konopka late in the 2013 season and he will likely serve as Joe Bendik's backup next year. Even with Bendik getting a raise the club has likely seen a significant decrease in what they are paying for keepers.
So if all six players are easily replaceable or upgradable what has the club done so far to make that happen?
M Jackson (12/9/13 - trade from FC Dallas)
F Gilberto (12/13/13 - transfer from SC Internacional)
D Justin Morrow (12/17/13 - trade from San Jose)
F Dwayne de Rosario (12/18/13 - Re-Entry Stage 2)
On the surface if you consider Konopka as Frei's replacement at backup keeper the team has already replaced almost every player that they let go of. The arrival of Gilberto should be enough to replace the scoring lost with the departure of Earnshaw even without the second DP striker being in place it seems the club has already upgraded their forwards. You can also add in the midseason addition of Bright Dike who could be considered as a replacement for Braun as a potential big body option to change things up in the attack.
In the midfield the club has made a pair of moves to address the hole left behind by Convey. By adding De Rosario and Jackson they have potentially brought in two players who could play left mid and are capable of having a bigger impact than Convey did in that role last season. By bringing in both players they have also improved the depth on the wings which was lacking at the end of last season.
Justin Morrow does not really replace any of the departing players but he does represent an improvement in the defence. He can play two positions which will help improve the depth across the back-line and is more than capable of becoming the regular starter at left-back if he can get back to the kind of form that saw him selected to the All-Star team.
The one departure that has yet to be addressed by the club is that of Russell as it leaves them a little bit thin in the middle of the park with Matias Laba and Jeremy Hall the only real options. The team could look to involve Kyle Bekker or Jonathan Osorio more in that role and turn one of them into a more complete midfielder but that might be asking a bit much of them.
There are certainly still some holes in the team left to address in the coming months before first kick comes around but the good news is that the team has already started to build towards the new season. While some clubs are still searching for a new coach (or just hired one) TFC have gotten down to business.
It is not even Christmas and it is pretty easy to say that even with some question marks about players this team is already better than the one that finished the 2013 season. The moves that the club has made have addressed needs and added quality to the team. They have taken some calculated risks on players but that is what you need to do if you want to go from being terrible to being a contender in one offseason.
The team still have a SuperDraft, the international transfer period, and preseason to add talent that is not currently in the league. They also have the option to complete more trades which is expected as the club still has a few pieces that they seem focused on moving out.
With the addition of De Rosario on Wednesday the roster now stands at 25 players under contract. Even if the club moves a few more out it should not be hard for them to be in a position to enter training camp with nearly a full team in place. That might just be a first for the club.
It would be premature to call this offseason a success since there is at least one big piece that needs to be added but it has been a very good start. The first four moves have helped to build confidence that the team is heading in the right direction and now they have plenty of time to keep building and making smart moves. No matter how you slice it that sure beats only having half a roster for training camp or having someone changing in a cab.