Earlier this week it was confirmed that Toronto FC wouldn't be picking up the contract options on either of their goalkeepers. Joe Bendik and Chris Konopka will almost certainly be leaving the club in 2016, resulting in Toronto being in search of at least one if not two keepers this offseason.
The only goalies that remain on the roster are Quillan Roberts and Alex Bono, both who have yet to make an MLS appearance and certainly not ready to take on a starting role. It is conceivable that the Toronto brass saw this move coming earlier and as a result is already exploring all options to bolster their goalkeeping depth.
Bendik had been a regular starter with Toronto since joining the club in 2013 and made 73 league appearances in three seasons. While being a somewhat of an average goalkeeper in previous seasons, this was Bendik's final chance to prove himself as an elite keeper in MLS. He ultimately failed as soft goals, especially the three against lowly Chicago early in the season, coupled with an injury problem resulted in him losing his starting spot to Konopka.
After sitting on the bench for a couple matches a suspension to Konpoka gave Bendik the second chance he craved. However, yet again he failed to impress and unfortunately consistently disappointed Toronto fans with his performances. A six game stretch in the summer saw Bendik concede three goals on four different occasions while conceding a total of 14 goals in those matches.
This string of matches ultimately led to his demise and as a result Toronto made the correct decision in moving on from him. While he may be a suitable backup keeper in the league, a salary of almost $160,000 is not worth the risk within an incredibly strict salary cap. Bendik finished the season with Toronto with a very poor 63% save percentage and 2.08 Goals Against Average, both well under league averages.
Konopka spent a few seasons with Toronto without making a single appearance and finally got his chance following the Bendik injury. A hot start saw Konopka concede only 8 goals in 9 matches and really impress fans early on. This stretch of games was also when Toronto's defense began to play well and certainly contributed to his hot start. His next two matches he conceded 8 goals and a suspension allowed Bendik back into the starting XI.
Following Bendik's unimpressive form, Konpoka regained his position in goal. From the moment he returned, he was never the same and proved why he only made two appearances in his previous four seasons in the league. A 67% save percentage and 1.48 Goals Against Average on the year were better than Bendik, however were still not good enough for Toronto FC.
Similar to Bendik, Konopka cannot be a starter if you aspire to be a title contending club and therefore had to be released. While possibly being a suitable backup, it is likely that Toronto is counting on the potential they have seen with Bono and Roberts to fill the backup role with young talent who could possibly become a starter in the future.
With that being said, Toronto now has two months to sign a goalkeeper in time for training camp in February. With no serious rumors leaked yet, we must start the job for Tim Bezbatchenko and Bill Manning on who and what the club should be looking for in a goalkeeper.
Who Should Toronto FC Pursue as a Starting Goaltender?
In terms of attributes, it is imperative Toronto search for an all-around excellent goalkeeper, not one that is just a strong shot stopper such as Joe Bendik. Toronto must acquire a keeper that can organize his defenders, come out for corners and demand his 18-yard box. One that can also play their way out of trouble can start a counter attack with a smart throw or accurate long ball. To find a goalkeeper that has all of these attributes, Toronto must search both within MLS and overseas and should look to spend a solid amount on this position ($250,000-300,000).
Within MLS, Toronto should consider Sean Johnson of the Chicago Fire. A 26-year-old with over 150 games in MLS, Johnson has been a mainstay in goal for Chicago. Johnson maintains the attributes mentioned above and has a good chance of being acquired in a trade given Chicago being in a rebuilding stage. The downside is he has appeared in only one MLS playoff game and might not have the experience necessary to take Toronto over the top.
Nick Rimando should also be considered as he has been an elite keeper in the league for well over a decade. He is also a keeper that could potentially be made available this offseason given RSL's current situation and definitely possesses big-time experience with 33 MLS playoff matches and 2 MLS cup trophies to his name. The downside to Rimando is his age as he likely only has 2-3 good years left in him.
Other keepers within MLS that need to be considered are Bill Hamid, David Ousted or Luis Robles, however it is unlikely that we could strike a deal with these goalkeepers as they are playing on elite clubs and are the top keepers in the league. Toronto would have to offer one or two big players in return for one of these keepers, but they are still players worth considering.
Outside of MLS, Canadian International Milan Borjan would be great for Toronto. At 28 years old with plenty of Europa League experience, Borjan would bring leadership qualities and organization to Toronto along with great shot-stopping ability. He might be interested in making a move to Toronto as he is a well-travelled veteran and is rumored to be on the move in January, however rumors are towards another move in Europe. The downside with Borjan is that he is an international player and would miss a few matches as a result which is always an issue in MLS.
Other strategies Toronto could explore would be to sign a top goalkeeper who is not starting in Europe. For example, 6'5" Diego Lopez at AC Milan who lost his starting role could be looked at. The issue is the money, as I don't see him or someone similar coming at $300,000 per year. Possibly Salvatore Sirigu might be interested in a move overseas as he has also lost his starting position and can come over on a loan similar to Julio Cesar in 2014. Legendary FC Porto keeper Iker Casillas has come out and said he would be interested in a move to MLS so he could also be an option as a possible ‘core DP'.
There are many avenues for Toronto to explore, however signing a strong goalkeeper that can make improve Toronto defensively should be priority number one this offseason.