January is always the best month of the year for Toronto FC, because they are easily Major League Soccer's best team during the winter months. Every year it seems like the team is bringing in some sort of new player or strategy that is marketed in such a way that it whips the supporters into a frenzy about the upcoming season. Of course by the summer months any of this optimism is out of the window but the club can sometimes do a good enough job that it makes everyone momentarily think this outcome will be different.
This year's January transfer window should hardly be as exciting as last year's Bloody Big Deal, in theory there will only be one designated player spot for Toronto to work with this time around. However there are certainly no shortage of story lines that are set to play out over the next month.
Where will Jermain Defoe end up?
This is probably the biggest question of the offseason because it opens the door to the rest of Toronto's offseason plans. The sooner Defoe is out of Toronto the better chance they will have to do a deal with a quality designated player replacement for the striker. While all reports indicate that a deal is already well in the works, it is worth taking pretty much everything related with Jermain Defoe with at least a slight grain of salt.
What is essentially certain at this point is the fact that Defoe will be going, as it would be ill advised to retain him at this point. It has been clear since the dismissal of Ryan Nelsen, and even before, that he was not happy in Toronto and wanted to return to the Premier League. Early indications have him willing to go to essentially any club in the highest tier of English football, which only strengthens this phenomenon. Toronto made their stand in keeping Defoe over the summer months, now it is time to close the book on this less than favourable chapter in their history.
Can The Team Acquire its first true Number 10?
One of the things this team has always lacked is a true playmaker in the attacking midfield. As a result, the offence and change generation departments have both suffered as the team failed to comprehensively move the ball into the final third. Even this year when there were far more confident and quality players on the field this sort of player was noticeably missing. This could ultimately be the place where Toronto's offseason succeeds or fails, because it was the biggest element missing it the team last year.
There have already been plenty of rumours as to which number 10 Toronto is after. Some have been quick to suggest that a South American option is being considered. As far as league history goes, this is certainly a method that has worked for teams in the past. Columbus has been extremely successful in finding Argentine number 10's to build their team around. Guillermo Barros Schelotto was one of the best players in modern MLS history. Currently, the team is built around Frederico Higuain. If Toronto could somehow acquire a South American player like this it would instantly translate into their most successful designated player selection.
Evidently, other more high profile names have also been thrown into the mix. While he was never going to play a number 10 role, Steven Gerrard was one of two players reportedly on Toronto FC's list of targets this offseason. He will be coming to MLS, just not to Toronto, as Los Angeles appears to be his destination. The next name reportedly on Toronto's list, Wesley Sneijder, seems to be closing in on a deal with Juventus. But who knows, if those were some of the names on the list there could be a couple more big name tricks up the club's sleeve.
The Defensive Question
As of right now, Toronto FC will start the upcoming MLS season with a backline of Justin Morrow, Steven Caldwell, Nick Hagglund and Mark Bloom. That's not exactly re-assuring considering what that group demonstrated down the stretch. The team could really use at least one other experienced defender to shore up the backline. There has been interest in this of course, as earlier in the season Toronto were in the running for Nat Borchers and Aurelien Collin. Someone of that ilk would be ideal to help fix the team's leaky stern.
Aside from a new starting centreback, the club could use at least a few more names on the roster to help should injuries arise, as they almost certainly will. For this, the team can at least partially rely on their draft.
Building Through the Draft
Tim Bezbatchenko's performance as a general manager has undoubtedly been up and down in his first year with Toronto FC. Among his more impressive feats, was his display at the 2014 MLS Superdraft. Toronto FC drafted Nick Hagglund 10th overall and the freshman made himself a staple in Toronto's backline while hardly looking out of place among the best of his draft class. In the second round, the team took Dan Lovitz who also earned his way onto the Toronto roster.
This year, Toronto will be picking 6th, 9th, 11th, 29th, 37th, 50th, 70th and 81st. With the most selections of any team in the draft, and three in the top 12, Toronto will definitely have a chance to reinforce the team through the draft. It doesn't hurt that they now have a USL Pro affiliate who will be able to help these players develop. The draft is set to take place January the 16th at noon.