It has been an eventful three seasons since Tim Bezbatchenko was hired as general manager of Toronto FC. More than that, it has been an eventful three offseasons for the club.
As the calendar once again turns to January, TFC hold the tongue-in-cheek title of “back-to-back-to-back winners of the offseason” in MLS. However, this past year was the first time their offseason effort brought them close to winning a real title on the field.
While offseason acquisitions don’t tell the whole story of how Bezbatchenko and co. built this Toronto FC squad, they do tell a lot. With transfer season once again upon us, here is a look back at the signings made during the last three Toronto FC offseasons, and what they might tell us about what is to come in the next few weeks.
2014: The Bloody Big Deal
The Good: Justin Morrow (Trade), Michael Bradley (DP), Julio Cesar (Loan), Nick Hagglund (Draft)
The Okay: Jackson (Trade), Dwayne De Rosario (Re-Entry Draft), Bradley Orr (Loan)
The Bad: Jermain Defoe (DP), Gilberto (DP)
It is pretty clear from the sheer volume of moves that Toronto made during Bezbatchenko’s first offseason that they were a team in full rebuilding mode. They threw a lot of darts at the board early on, and only a couple stuck.
Bradley is evidently still the cornerstone of this franchise, and Morrow is also a foundational piece at full-back. Hagglund is proving himself to be a starting caliber centre-back in MLS. Cesar almost shouldn’t count considering how short his stay with the club was, but he is still the best goalkeeper they have ever had.
Toronto also brought home the prodigal son, De Rosario, only to never really play him. Jackson and Orr turned out to be decent squad players, but not valuable enough to keep.
The real story of this transfer window, of course, is the failed designated player signings. The whole Defoe saga turned out to be a nightmare for the club, while Gilberto never really caught on either.
How much Bezbatchenko had to do with the bigger signings this window is unknown, as they would appear to have been more of Tim Leiweke’s doing, but certainly Bez learned a lot of lessons from this initial offseason that he applied going forward.
2015: The Spine
The Good: Marky Delgado (Dispersal Draft), Alex Bono (Draft), Jozy Altidore (Trade), Eriq Zavaleta (Trade), Benoit Cheyrou (Free), Sebastian Giovinco (Free)
The Okay: Damien Perquis (Free),
The Ugly: Robbie Findley (Re-Entry Draft)
There was a clear plan during this second transfer window of the Bezbatchenko era, and the acquisitions reflected this. Toronto still made a large volume of additions to the team, but they were more targeted than before.
During this time, the club talked a lot about “the spine” of the franchise and how they wanted their designated players to constantly be working together and playing off of each other. Avoiding another Defoe situation was crucial for the franchise.
They did that and then some by acquiring Giovinco and Altidore, a pair of highly skilled players who were willing to be part of a project here in Toronto. This was the window where Toronto took its biggest leap forward as a franchise, even if it wasn’t evident on the field right away.
Around the big names, Bezbatchenko also made a couple of invaluable smaller moves. Questions will be asked for years about how not one of the 13 clubs ahead of Toronto in the 2014 MLS Dispersal Draft did not spot a talent like Delgado.
Cheyrou, meanwhile, brought instant class to the midfield both on and off the pitch. Bono, picked up in the SuperDraft, and Zavaleta, via trade, are two players who continue to factor for Toronto.
The lone disappointments from that transfer window were a pair of veteran players that never really fit the squad. Perhaps if he had support around him Perquis could have been a solid defender in MLS, but that never happened. Findley, meanwhile, cost a ton of money for his limited production.
2016: The MLS Quartet
The Good: Drew Moor (Free Agent), Steven Beitashour (Trade), Will Johnson (Trade), Clint Irwin (Trade), Tsubasa Endoh (Draft)
With the outline of a squad already built, Bezbatchenko was able to fill specific positional needs last year and did that almost perfectly in his third transfer window as Toronto FC GM.
After bringing in a lot of players from abroad in past transfer windows, Bezbatchenko focused more on bringing in experienced and proven MLS pros this time. He started by addressing the club’s most pressing need: the backline.
In the space of two days, Toronto signed Drew Moor as a free agent and traded for Steven Beitashour. In January, goalkeeper Clint Irwin was acquired via trade to further cement the defence.
The success of these moves was in the numbers: Toronto FC went from being the joint-worst team in MLS in terms of allowing goals in 2015 to having the second-best goals-against record this past season.
Veteran midfielder Will Johnson only spent one season with the club, but brought experience and professionalism. Tsubasa Endoh, meanwhile, slowed down after a strong start to his career but has the ability to play at the MLS level going forward.
2017: The Finishing Touches?
After making the MLS Cup final this past year, it would seem that Toronto FC only needs to retain what they have and make a couple of moves to improve their chances of getting back. But it is clear that they cannot stand still on their current roster and need to retool.
The fact that Toronto decided not to make an acquisition during the December MLS drafts and free agency thus far shows that they are looking for a specific type of player, and aren’t going to limit themselves in where they find it.
Just as backline support was the target of last offseason, Toronto could use a creative attacking player this window to help out Altidore and Giovinco, who did the bulk of the scoring in 2016. Whether that be an attacking midfielder or a winger remains to be seen, but should be answered in the next few weeks.
If Toronto are to make any headlines this offseason - and they are very unlikely to the way they have the past three windows - it is with this signing. Undoubtedly, a lot of their resources - in terms of the departing salary plus the next influx of allocation money - will go towards this signing.
TFC could also use some depth in defence, both at right-back and centre-back, with Josh Williams and Mark Bloom now departed. In that instance looking within the league might be the best policy, as Toronto has struggled to find success with defenders from abroad in the past.