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TFC Must Trade Its Designated Players

If Toronto FC is to move forward, two of Frings, Hassli, or Koevermans should not be here by June.

Time to go? Photo by
Time to go? Photo by
Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

Yesterday brought news that Toronto has exercised the option on Eric Hassli. Good. Who wants him? For the sake of its short and long term future, Toronto FC cannot afford to end the 2013 season with Torsten Frings, Hassli and/or Danny Koevermans on its roster.

There, I said it.

Many of you may have suspected that I had lost it when I announced that I renewed my season tickets. Perhaps this confirms your suspicions? Maybe.

But maybe there is a little bit of logic behind this seemingly mad statement. Toronto's biggest issue moving forward is lack of depth and flexibility to replace its best, oft injured players. Trading at least 2 of the 3, will enable the franchise to move forward.

There are plenty of arguments to suggest that trading these players would be insane. For example:

  • TFC's record improved immediately when Frings and Koevermans joined the team in 2011
  • They are collectively our best players
  • Koevermans is arguably the best striker we have ever had and a case could be made that he's one of the best in the league
  • Our mid-field is woefully thin. If Frings goes, is Aaron Maund to take his place?
  • TFC can't afford to miss the playoffs again. It needs to put out the best starting eleven it can

However reasonable those positions are, the arguments in favour of trading at least two of the three have convinced me that it is the best thing for the franchise. What arguments you say? Glad you asked.

Argument #1 - Medical History

The average age of Designated Players in the league is 30.97. Frings (36), Koevermans (34) and Hassli (31) form one of the oldest threesomes in the game.

Not one of our DPs has played a healthy season in recent memory. In fact, Frings has suffered injuries (minor to major) in each season since 2008. Koevermans, at 34, is coming off an injury that ends many careers. He is already slated to miss upwards of a third of the 2013 MLS season if he returns in early May. Hassli, the youngest of the group hasn't had an injury free MLS campaign... ever.

Sport is an exercise in calculated risk. One of the biggest factors that can influence a team in the MLS is health. Not only from a performance perspective but for its impact on roster flexibility. More on that in a minute but clearly history suggests that time on the treatment table is very likely in 2013 for all of them. In Koevermans' case, that time is already booked.

Argument #2 - The Real Cost of Injuries

Here's all that you need to know about the impact of injuries, Major League Soccer does not give "cap" relief for any player that is injured.

As you now, there is no salary cap in MLS. It is simply a budget that is assigned and flexed via allocation money. The budget reflects what a team spends in a year. Since injured players still get paid, it still counts as a budget charge. There is no formula for Long Term Injury (LTI) relief like there is in the NHL. There is no relief given because it is simply an expense that is charged to the budget.

In the event that you don't believe me or my sources, the MLS Roster Rules are quite specific:

A team with a player lost to a season-ending injury can place the player on the Season Ending Injury List and replace that player on its roster, while remaining responsible for the full amount of the injured player's salary. A player can be placed on the season-ending injury list once another player has been signed as a replacement (provided the team has budget space).

The immediate impact is already significant. Danny Koevermans is expected back in late April to early May. Nearly 1/3 of the season will be gone by the time he takes to the pitch in an effort to regain match fitness. For those 8-9 games he will miss, Toronto will incur a budget charge for his contract. A charge that hinders their flexibility to replace his services.

Need I mention that by mid-May 2012, TFC was already 0-9-0?

Should Frings or Hassli go down, the same rules apply.

Argument #3 - 2014

Even if you believe that these 3 players can stay healthy and contribute, you must be aware that as of 2014, not one of them will be under contract.

Barring a decision to re-sign them, life without Frings, Hassli and/or Koevermans will most likely be a reality in about 11 months time.

Does anyone really think our chances of competing in 2013 are good enough to be worth delaying the necessary and soon to come plan B?

Argument #4 - The Need for Depth

Plan B should involve adding depth and an active plan to replace our aging core.

As for depth, through the actions of various management regimes, the cupboards are bare. Draft picks have been traded for players that are no longer here. Those players that were drafted, such as Sam Cronin, have been traded. While injuries are a factor for every team, in Toronto, this lack of depth effectively ends our season.

TFC has indicated that it plans zero Academy promotions in 2013. They took a pass on the waiver draft. They do not have a 1st Round pick in 2014. That means that TFC will rely heavily on trades and discovery signings to build its asset base.

How do they acquire assets while seemingly having very little budget flexibility? Earl Cochrane was very clear at the Town Halls that they have significant "cap" (he used the word but I know you are smarter and understand that he really meant budget) tied up in these three players. It hinders what they can do to add depth. Barring some league budget flexing, this is their reality.

So take a page from Timothy Leary and alter the reality. Given the injury history and implications under league budget rules, trade those that are creating this budget squeeze. Use your assets to acquire additional assets. That may come from trading players for players or trading freed up budget space (also known as allocation money) for additional assets. Do what it takes to restock the cupboards with assets.

Argument #5 - DP Replacements

Instead of looking to add depth in terms of quantity, Toronto could go the quality route and seek to add DP replacements. Over half the DPs currently in the league came to it through the Summer transfer window (61%). Simply put, if you trade your DPs before the summer transfer window you will get two shots at signing their replacements, one this summer (2013) and if you miss, one again in the offseason (2014). Ideally, these will be younger players that have better odds of staying healthy and contributing over the course of the season.

A Word on Danny Koevermans

You'll note that I said that TFC should trade at least two of the three.

With respect to Koevermans, I don't think that his timeline for returning to the league will result in immediate interest on the trade market. No one will deal for him and his salary without knowing the status of his ACL. It will take many games to determine a) how well it holds up and b) at what percent of his former self he is post-injury. All of these factors make trading Danny somewhat challenging.

Since he has been Toronto's most prolific and consistent scorer, I also feel that he has earned the right for us to gamble on him. If two younger, healthier DPs can be found before 2014, the implications of resigning Koevermans for a year or two following this season are made less daunting if he can return to form. If not, he comes off the books in 2014 and the budget flexibility returns for the following season.

In Summary

It is somewhat of a less conventional thought process in building a plan for success. Imagine, a poor team trading its best players. When you recognize that you aren't likely to have them anyway and that keeping them on the books hinders your options, the concept becomes less troublesome.

What say you Waking the Red readers, would you trade them?