For the first time in Toronto FC history, the club doesn’t have a glaring hole going into the off season. The team that once seemed to completely recast itself every winter will likely try to remain as close as possible to its championship-winning 2017 self.
This new year will bring new challenges, however, especially with the added CONCACAF Champions League competition. Club president Bill Manning has stated that the club’s goal this offseason will be to add depth throughout the lineup to compensate.
Manning started the offseason by expressing the fact that they would like to add another striker, improve their midfield, add a dynamic wide player and improve their back line. Basically, reinforcement all around.
The issue, of course, is that Toronto had very little cap space left at the end of last year. Essentially all signings this winter will have to be made using the $4 million dollars in discretionary targeted allocation money that the league has made available.
The club has already signed striker Ayo Akinola to a homegrown deal. With Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Tosaint Ricketts and Jordan Hamilton already under contract that is likely all the forward reinforcement the club will need.
Below, we will explore the other items on Toronto FC’s wishlist. Here is what the team looks like currently:
Goalkeepers (2): Alex Bono, Clint Irwin
Defenders (6): Nick Hagglund, Nicolas Hasler, Chris Mavinga, Ashtone Morgan, Justin Morrow, Drew Moor
Midfielders (5): Michael Bradley, Jay Chapman, Marky Delgado, Jonathan Osorio, Victor Vazquez
Forwards (5): Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco, Jordan Hamilton, Tosaint Ricketts
Help in the midfield
This should be at the top of Toronto FC’s list, as it is the most important shopping they’ll do in the coming weeks. The one spot that Toronto does not have a ready-made understudy is behind Michael Bradley. The retirement of Benoit Cheyrou only heightens the need for the signing of a holding midfielder.
There is no doubt this will be a tricky signing for Tim Bezbatchenko. Does he simply try to sign a holding midfielder who can fill in for Bradley on the very rare occasions that he is not available to play 90 minutes? Or does he spend a little more money on a dual-purpose midfielder, one who can play that role if called upon but also play alongside Bradley as needed further up the field.
The second option is preferable, and Toronto has the blueprint of what kind of signing they need in the departing Cheyrou, albeit a difficult one to replicate. The technically and tactically solid Frenchman, before age caught up to him, could essentially slot anywhere in the midfield for Toronto.
Furthermore, while his option was declined, Armando Cooper may yet return at a cheaper rate. The Panamanian international was much maligned during a difficult 2017 season, but had a strong playoffs as a depth option off the bench. His CONCACAF experience could come in very handy during Champions League play.
Strengthening the back line
Perhaps the second most important offseason task for the front office is to improve the club’s depth at central defence. The spine of the team is really what made the difference in 2017: Alex Bono through Drew Moor through Bradley through Victor Vazquez and up to Giovinco and Altidore.
Reinforcing that spine is crucial to replicating that success. Toronto does have several strong options at central defence, including Moor, Nick Hagglund and Chris Mavinga currently under contract. Eriq Zavaleta is also a probable returnee.
However, Toronto used all five of their centre backs this past season, and could probably use that many again. Whether or not Greg Vanney deploys three of them at a time in 2017 remains to be seen, but having quality options in the middle of defense is never a bad policy.
The club has already been linked with German Conti, an Argentine centreback. However, all indications are that he would be quite an expensive purchase, and if Toronto are going to make a bigger splash this offseason, it should probably be done in the midfield.
Dynamic wide players
Toronto FC probably didn’t go into this summer expecting to lose Raheem Edwards, an unfortunate scenario that leads to a loss of depth on the left. In Ashtone Morgan, however, the club does have a capable fill in with 100 MLS caps to his name — not to mention the fact that he has CONCACAF Champions League experience.
Where Toronto might be more inclined to add is on the right side of defense. Rumblings around the club seem to indicate that Steven Beitashour might have played his last minutes for the club in the MLS Cup Final.
That leaves Nicolas Hasler as the only fill-in at right back. While Hasler had a great 2017 campaign, he was far more suited to the attacking wingback role that the club deployed in the 3-5-2. If they move to a 4-4-2 he is probably better in the midfield.
If Beitashour is indeed on the way out, the club could use a more traditional right back who can slide into the middle should Justin Morrow continue to push up the left flank. This could be accomplished reasonably cheap, which is probably why Beitashour’s $264,000 in guaranteed compensation is expendable.
If Tim Bezbatchenko and staff can accomplish all three of these targets over the next couple of months then Toronto FC will go into the 2018 season in great shape. It is a tough proposition, however, adding to a winning formula while not disrupting it too much.
It also might take some patience. While the rest of the league has been all too eager to spend all of their newly-acquired TAM money, Toronto FC needs to make sure that theirs is used as effectively as possible.
Ultimately, this makes for a very interesting off-season from a Toronto FC perspective.