It's no secret that in the past few weeks Toronto FC has had their tires kicked more than a few times with team interested in acquiring one of their designated players. It happened last transfer window as well, and it's likely to have for as long as these players pull on red shirts.
At this point, it seems like Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco have been linked to just about every team in the Serie A between them. Much of that interest is real, as Sampdoria and Torino have both inquired about Bradley, for example.
Toronto FC, however, has made it clear that they have no intention of selling. This is not a team looking to make a quick penny on what would likely be a sizeable transfer fee, something which hasn't always been the case with the TFC front office. This is a team looking to build an identity, and they know shedding their most recognisable names in no way to do that.
"It's a matter of understanding that these players aren't for sale," Toronto FC General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko told Kurt Larson of the Toronto Sun last week. "If there was an offer we couldn't refuse, then it is something we would entertain but for the most part, it's a polite decline. Thank you, but no thank you."
It's something of a coming of age for the club: big soccer teams acquire big players, bigger ones are able to keep them. There's a lot to be said about how Toronto FC have been able to make all three of these players buy into what they are trying to build here. In MLS, at least, Toronto has finally become an attractive destination for players.
The importance of keeping these players goes hand in hand with continuing to rebuild trust with a fan base who, after years of disappointment, doesn't have many good memories. Having names that they know will be part of the team week in and week out is crucial to keeping the casual fan engaged, and the hardcore fans inspired.
Just take Giovinco, for example, who has become a genuine star in the city of Toronto alongside names like Demar DeRozan and Josh Donaldson. Stars of this magnitude aren't made overnight, they are the result of consistent stellar performances and loyalty shown by both the club and the player.
Having consistent stars like Giovinco, or Altidore, or Bradley is something that this club has never had throughout its history. The club has changed from top to bottom year in and year out as new management brings in new players and a new philosophy.
Toronto FC could probably make a handsome profit off of these players, especially Giovinco, by selling him back to a club in Europe. But management has shown time and time again that this isn't what they are about and the club is finally starting to establish an identity as a result.
In order to build something, one needs cornerstone, and Toronto FC has made it clear which blocks they are building around. They aren't letting those blocks be uprooted, and that in itself is a good sign of how far this club has come. Teams can continue to call, but "no" is almost always going to be the answer.