Earlier today Toronto FC announced that they have finalized a deal that will bring Joao Plata back to the club for the next couple of seasons. The details, as is the case with all MLS deals, are not going to be released so at the moment, all we can do is speculate as to the price tag, length of the deal, or even how much of his rights the club actually purchased. Even without all that, this is big news for the club and now leaves only Richard Eckersley as the missing piece from the roster that was much improved down the stretch last season.
When last year ended most fans would probably have agreed that the teams best 11 would have looked something like this:
Now you can debate the names in that lineup all you want, but the point I am trying to make first off is that the club has managed to ensure the return of almost all of those players already and if we are to believe what they are saying, the re-signing of Eckersley could be coming at any time.
On top of bringing back much of their starting 11 already the club has done well to improve their depth. The additions of Reggie Lambe and Jeremy Hall may not be star studded moves but they do stand to improve the teams depth. Add to that the fact that Adrian Cann is hoping to be back for training camp and Dicoy Williams could return by the start of summer and the team is already looking stronger than it was at the end of last season. The roster will likely be rounded out in the coming days as the SuperDraft gives TFC another chance to add two more contributors to the roster with their early picks (assuming no trades are made).
So where does that leave the team in terms of roster space?As of right now the club lists 26 players on its roster. That list does include Elbekay Bouchiba, Adrian Cann, Nicholas Lindsay, and Dicoy WIlliams who are all listed as inactive as well as the yet to be signed Eckersley. So even if you leave space for Cann and Williams who should both be back at some point during the season and Eckersley who could sign any day you have 24 roster spots filled. Now, in MLS clubs are allowed to carry 30 players on their active roster at any time so Toronto has a fair bit of space to play with in that regard. Even if they come home from the draft in Kansas City with two more players to add to the roster they will have room left for any additional signings that might be in the works.
The club is likely to be more limited by the salary cap at this point as all accounts suggest that they now have very little room to play with. The club did well to shed a lot of dead weight at the start of the off-season as they really did take care of that end of business in a quick and efficient manner. All the players that were either released or sent to the re-entry draft meant that the club had both increased roster space as well as giving themselves a bit more cap room. It is key to note though that most of the players released did not actually count against the cap last season. In MLS only the first 20 players on the roster count against the salary cap and there is a $335,000 hit for any designated players.
So who on the current roster would not count against the salary cap? Well Ashtone Morgan, Matt Stinson, Doneil Henry, Oscar Cordon, and Keith Makabuya are all home grown players as well as being on basically league minimum contracts. That would really mean that everyone else on the roster would count against the salary cap at this stage. It is next to impossible to say what next years cap will be, what allocation money the club will have, and what players contract values will be next season so all we can do is speculate that the team is now close to the cap.
The fact that the team is close to the cap right now really is not a bad thing when you consider the talent that is now on the roster. There is still room to improve the depth in some areas and the draft will help to address some of those concerns but at this stage I think all we can expect is maybe a couple more signings. Bringing back Eckersley will be step one, then probably adding another defender (possibly Juan Aceval) would be step two, and anything after that would be moves to add more depth to the club. If they do make depth moves, they will likely have to be in the league minimum type range just to fill out the last 3 or 4 spots in the roster without impacting the cap.
I think that looking at the current roster situation, the two biggest areas of concern remain a bit more cover at centre back and attacking midfield. The attacking mid position could clearly be addressed in the draft with the likes of Rowe, DeLeon, Martinez, and Silva all likely to be available at number 4. The CB concern remains the tricky one but at the moment is seems that the club is happy going in to the season with Andy Iro, Ty Harden, Doneil Henry, and Adrian Cann with Dicoy Williams eventually joining the mix. It is not a stand out group but all of them are capable of making a contribution so hopefully it is enough to allow Frings to move back to the midfield and for the goals against to be a bit less embarrassing this season.
In my eyes the re-signing of Plata fills in one of the final pieces of the puzzle for the club. If they do bring Ecks back then I would argue that the roster is already better than the team that finished last season well enough to be a playoff contender. Is this side a title contender? Well no, not yet, but if the club does well for itself tomorrow at the draft it is certainly a side that is good enough to make the playoffs. The team will have to rely on some of the younger guys to continue to develop to help improve depth and guard against injury problems but that is something they seem happy to do. Winter has shown that he is more focused on building a great team and that takes time. As a part of that he has shown a lot of faith in the younger players and that will continue with the return of Joao Plata.
If Toronto wants to be a playoff team next season the likes of Plata, Morgan, and Stinson will have to continue to develop as Winter will certainly be counting on them to be key members of the team. I for one am glad that the club has chosen to invest in that faith by bringing back Plata and moving the team one step closer to being ready for the season.
Isn't the lack of disorganization just refreshing? I mean when has Toronto FC ever had a fairly stable and complete roster going in to draft day? I would say it is a very welcome and refreshing change for a team that has been the joke of MLS for far to long.