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Could Toronto FC be a fit for Atiba Hutchinson?

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Weighing up a potential move for Canada’s best player.

Canada Soccer

Atiba Hutchinson had spent some time away from Canada - in a soccer sense, at least.

So it was natural, when he made his first appearance for the national team against Jamaica four days short of a year after his last, that he was thrust into the spotlight.

Hutchinson talked past, present and future.

He spoke about his legacy as arguably Canada’s greatest male footballer and his relative anonymity in his home country despite that status.

He was asked if the friendly at BMO Field would be his last match for the national team.

And he was quizzed on his situation at Besiktas and whether he could imagine playing out the final years of his club career back in Canada.

That third topic has long been a hope of Canadian fans who have never had the chance to watch Hutchinson regularly in Denmark, Netherlands and now Turkey.

Their hope was stoked by the Vancouver Whitecaps’ reported interest in the 34-year-old this summer.

Canada v Brazil Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

“Has there been a conversation? Yeah, of course,” Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson said when asked about a rumoured - though frankly unlikely - $5 million bid. “There’s a conversation about a lot of players, but out of respect to him and their club, that’s all there is at the moment.”

Then there is the prospect of the Brampton-born Hutchinson returning to Toronto. He briefly played close to home for the York Region Shooters and Toronto Lynx before making the move to Sweden to continue his pursuit of a professional career.

On Thursday, the popular Turkish website Futbol Arena reported that Besiktas had turned down a $1.5m offer from Toronto FC for their veteran midfielder.

If Hutchinson has any desire to come back to Canada, now is his chance: he turns 35 in February and his contract expires next summer.

So, what are the chances of Atiba-to-Toronto ever becoming a reality?

Pretty distant for now, but perhaps not impossible.

The biggest stumbling block is financial: unless TFC moved one of their designated players, the maximum they would be able to pay Hutchinson would be $1m a year.

They would then have to use targeted allocation money to buy that figure down below the maximum salary threshold, which is currently $480,625.

That’s assuming Toronto waited until Hutchinson’s contract expired on May 31 to sign him on a free transfer. Otherwise, any fee paid to Besiktas would also come into the equation when it comes to his charge against the salary cap and more TAM would be needed.

It’s not totally out of the question and Hutchinson might be worth it - more on that later - but the Reds would essentially be committing the bulk of the resources they will have available next year to sign him.

Even that, though, might not be enough.

The two-year contract Hutchinson signed at Besiktas in 2015 was worth €1m ($1.2m) per season. That was extended earlier this year for another season and it’s reasonable to assume both parties would have been satisfied with the existing terms.

That would seem to make a $1m salary in MLS a realistic offer, but during the 2016-17 campaign Besiktas also paid Hutchinson another €610,000 in bonuses - €200,000 for starting 30 games and €10,000 for each of his 41 appearances.

Hutchinson’s total earnings, then, were just short of $2m and starting to get a bit bloated from an MLS club’s perspective.

United States v Canada Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

But let’s imagine for a moment that a solution could be worked out and Hutchinson was on the table for Toronto, albeit at a cost.

Instinctively, it doesn’t smell right. Toronto spent big on their designated players but have done everything to maximize the dollars at their disposal under the cap, with their biggest non-DP investment, Victor Vazquez, a player they had quietly monitored for two years prior to signing.

Recognizable, known quantities like Hutchinson just aren’t very TFC.

This known quantity, however, would give Toronto the best three-man midfield in MLS by a mile and perhaps even the best on the continent.

Hutchinson is not only a formidable player in his own right but would also seem to be complementary in style to Vazquez and Michael Bradley, too - he can cover ground, wins the ball back and rarely gives it away.

Should Armando Cooper leave and Benoit Cheyrou decide to call it a day, Hutchinson’s ability to play both as a holding midfielder and as a No. 8 would kill two birds with one stone.

That would be more valuable than ever in a World Cup year, assuming Bradley and the USA do end up being present in Russia.

And while he is not getting any younger, neither is Bradley or Sebastian Giovinco. Adding another finished product to the group could help Toronto to coax every last drop of potential out of their current core in both MLS and the CONCACAF Champions League before they have to start thinking about moving on.

Hutchinson would make Toronto an even better team from the moment he stepped in the door, and that is something that is becoming increasingly difficult to do.

For now, all of this is fantasy and there is little indication beyond a single report in Turkey that we should be expecting Hutchinson to even emerge as a target of the Reds.

In fact, he hinted while back in Toronto for the BMO Field friendly that he could see himself retiring at Besiktas.

“I’ve been comfortable in Turkey and they’ve done a lot for me,” Hutchinson told the Canadian Press. “The fans have been great. I’ve taken so much from them. It’s always been in my head that I’d like to stay there and maybe end my career there.”

Should he decide to open the door to a move to MLS, Vancouver might be better placed than Toronto to get him: the Whitecaps would not need to use much TAM to buy Brek Shea or Matias Laba out of designated-player status, making it easier to meet Hutchinson’s demands.

He would significantly improve their midfield group and may like the idea of mentoring Alphonso Davies.

Canada Soccer by Martin Bazyl

Hutchinson and Toronto, though, could be more of a match than they seem on the surface.

Toronto would never do it for sentimental, feel-good reasons alone.

But if that sentimental, feel-good factor gave them a shot at a UEFA Champions League-calibre player on something of a hometown discount?

Again, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find players who can significantly improve this Toronto team at an affordable price.

Hutchinson belongs on that short list, and if he was to show an inclination for a Canadian swan song Toronto may not be as far-fetched a destination as it seems.