In his more than three years on the job for Toronto FC, GM Tim Bezbatchenko has done a lot of things right.
He has overseen the acquisition of global stars, now household names in the city’s sports scene. Under his watch the club has added several proven MLS veterans, and mixed it with a promising crop of young players. On top of this he has managed the league’s complex salary cap incredibly well.
With that being said, there is at least one major imperfection on Bezbatchenko’s body of work as Toronto FC’s GM: last summer’s transfer window. Last year’s Toronto FC squad was clearly flawed, especially defensively.“Bez” didn’t do much to help that with his summer moves.
He added expensive veterans Herculez Gomez and Ahmed Kantari, neither of whom really helped the team. Josh Williams turned out to be a decent add, but did little to plug Toronto’s leaky back line.
But Bezbatchenko clearly learned his lesson. This year, despite being strapped for cap space, he was able to make two massive additions. In fact, this year’s summer transfer moves are a big reason why Toronto FC are a (goal differential dependent) win away from their first ever MLS Cup final.
Part of this, of course, is that Bez also made solid acquisitions in the offseason. So when it came to the summer, Toronto didn’t have any particularly glaring issue that they needed to fix. But the two moves he did make were the final pieces of the puzzle.
Neither move was easy to arrange, which makes them all the more impressive. Tosaint Ricketts, officially acquired in late July, spent weeks training with Toronto FC, part of the reason he was so successful almost immediately, before the club was able to get his international transfer certificate.
This gave Toronto FC fans plenty of time to analyze the move before it was made, and, the consensus? The move would be underwhelming. Ricketts had always been a foot-soldier with the Canadian men’s national team: he scored frequently enough, but none of his goals were very memorable. He just didn’t seem like an exciting add.
But in Toronto he has found a role that suits him perfectly: the super sub poop disturber. As Greg Vanney has mentioned on multiple occasions, the last thing defenders want to see late in games is a player like Ricketts who has pace to burn.
He has been excellent at generating chances this season, averaging the third most shorts per game on the team (1.7 according to WhoScored, just slightly less than Jozy Altidore) despite playing an average of a little more than 30 minutes per match.
That was the case again on Tuesday, when the insertion of Ricketts (and fellow Canadian international Will Johnson) completely changed the dynamic of what looked like a crippling first leg loss to the Montreal Impact. Ricketts now has four goals and an assist in all competitions since joining TFC.
The kicker? He makes just $81,333 in guaranteed compensation, a very affordable price for a player who consistently has this much of an impact on any game in which he plays.
Toronto FC’s second acquisition of the window, Armando Cooper, costs significantly more at $193,333.33 in guaranteed compensation. But he also is proving to be worth every penny so far through ten games with Toronto FC.
Cooper’s acquisition again was by no means easy for Bezbatchenko, who by the end of the summer window had very little space left to work with. In fact, paperwork issues meant that the deal was actually concluded after the MLS transfer deadline had passed.
But since the holdup was on the end of Panama’s Arabe Unido, the club from which Cooper is currently loaned, and Toronto had submitted all of their paperwork prior to the deadline it was deemed valid.
Like Ricketts does up front, Cooper brings something different to the Toronto FC midfield. His technical ability is outstanding, and he leads all Toronto FC players (yes even Sebastian Giovinco) in dribbles per game with 2.7 according to Whoscored. He is also Toronto’s most fouled player (he does dive a lot) with 2.9 fouls drawn per game.
Unlike Ricketts, he had a fairly disappointing last match against the Montreal Impact. In fact, Greg Vanney might be wise to play Johnson in his place when the two sides meet against on Wednesday. But it was one of the few times he has failed to make a truly positive difference offensively.
Cooper’s loan deal has an option to be extended into the 2017 season. A lot still has to be decided for Toronto FC this off-season (let’s not get ahead of ourselves) but that is looking pretty darn likely.
If Toronto FC can overcome a 3-2 deficit in Wednesday’s home leg and make their first-ever MLS Cup final, it will be in part because they finally figured out the summer transfer window.