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What will Ali Curtis shape Toronto FC into?

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Bad timing, perhaps, but he may be putting TFC in the right direction.

SOCCER: JAN 13 MLS Player Combine Photo by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images

Since Tim Bezbatchenko left Toronto FC’s front office in January and was replaced by Ali Curtis as GM, chaos has really hit the Reds. But that’s not necessarily because of him; Bez left Curtis with some significant problems when he departed TFC.

Amid the uncertainty in the TFC camp, with Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez leaving, and Gregory van der Wiel also on the way out, I wanted to give you an idea of the type of team former New York Red Bulls sporting director Ali Curtis may want to shape Toronto FC into.

Who’s going to replace Sebastian Giovinco?

To be honest, I don’t have much of an idea who he wants to sign, but of course we have heard the rumours about Sofiane Hanni, a 28-year-old Algerian midfielder currently playing for Spartak Moscow in Russia. I’ve also heard about a potential loan deal for Argentinian striker Jonathan Menendez. Plus, there's the most recent rumour that it's Alejandro Pozuelo they've got their eye on. It sounds like there are several players on the front office’s shortlist.

In my personal opinion I believe Curtis and Bill Manning are looking at signing a player in their prime, who will cost a decent amount of money, but not nearly as much as Giovinco in terms of salary. I think they’re looking at players who don’t have as much of a big profile as Giovinco; when he was signed in 2015, TFC wanted to build up their own popularity in Toronto, and they had success with that. Now’s the time to cut the spending a bit and sign a good player who may not have as big a name.

Expect bold decisions

When Ali Curtis replaced Andy Roxburgh as the Red Bulls’ sporting director in December 2014, he started off his time in New York with some bold decisions. First, he fired popular manager Mike Petke ahead of the 2015 season and replaced him with Jesse Marsch. Curtis got a tremendous amount of backlash for his decision. Marsch ended up leading the Red Bulls to become 2015 MLS Supporters’ Shield champions.

MLS: New England Revolution at Real Salt Lake
Mike Petke’s dismissal did not go down well with Red Bulls supporters, but lead to many successful seasons under Jesse Marsch.
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not suggesting that Ali Curtis will fire Greg Vanney quickly if results don’t go our way, but I am saying that he’s fine with making himself a bit unpopular with fans in the short term if he believes that his decisions will be for the better of the team. In the case of the Red Bulls, it worked out.

Expect the academy system to be used more

This is one of the most significant and long-lasting contributions Curtis has made to the Red Bulls organization: he started a huge domestic youth movement. He didn’t start that youth movement by going the traditional MLS route of using draft picks, or many young foreign players. Instead, he signed many young Americans from the Red Bulls’ academy.

Some of the most notable players Curtis signed or gave first attention to in the Red Bull system are Sean Davis, Tyler Adams, Derrick Etienne, Alex Muyl, and Aaron Long. Adams recently signed for RB Leipzig of Germany, and has even made a few starts for the Bundesliga side. Long captained the USMNT in their most recent friendly. Even Matt Miazga played under Curtis’ leadership for a while.

Anyway, expect Ali Curtis to invest more in TFC’s current youth system, and to cast a wider net for local Canadian players. I wouldn’t expect him to sign as many older backup players, as I could see him trying to fill the void by signing TFC II and academy players to the first team for them to be played instead. Whether or not this will help TFC in the short term remains to be seen, but Curtis has already started up his time in Toronto by signing Noble Okello, a TFC II midfielder and academy prospect.

Was it Curtis’ decision to move Vazquez and Giovinco?

The answer to this is simple: I believe the answer is no. It sounded like Victor Vazquez wanted to get a bigger contract which would’ve led to him wanting a DP deal — but he knew he couldn’t get that so he wanted to move on. It also seemed like TFC were worried that he would struggle with injuries in 2019 so they wanted to move him on.

With Sebastian Giovinco, it seems like Bill Manning and MLSE wanted to offer him a pay cut, and Ali Curtis went along with it. Giovinco felt insulted because of this and decided to move to Al-Hilal for a pay increase. This problem seemed like it was almost inevitable, unless of course they splashed the cash on an aging player who has been declining in form since he first arrived in 2015. Even if it was partly his decision, in my opinion it didn’t seem like the worst decision in the world by the end of it, and Curtis seemed to have his hands tied with Giovinco. I guess this gives him space to make the team his own, thinking on the bright side.

Thinking long-term

No disrespect to Bez, but since we won the MLS Cup in 2017, it seemed like he was trying to ride out the team’s successes by adding more good players in their prime like Gregory van der Wiel and Laurent Ciman, and didn’t really focus on the how the team will look three or four years down the road. Our team has been aging for the past few years now, and although coming into the 2019 off-season I believe we had a squad that could compete for championships, it could be viewed as slightly short-sighted that we haven’t really tried to implement many new youngsters into the first team of late.

When Curtis arrived to become the Red Bulls’ sporting director in late 2014, he came with a 300-page plan (yes, it was actually that long) on how he envisioned New York Red Bulls to play and how he wanted them to operate. It was mocked greatly at first, especially after he fired Mike Petke before he even managed a game under Ali Curtis, but it ended up really paying off in the end (I mean, think about how well the Red Bulls have played over the last few seasons). Curtis is not the type of person who comes into a team with a plan for the next season that he may or may not follow, he comes with a plan for years to come for the MLS franchise that he’s working with. Now he may not have this type of plan set in stone yet for TFC, but I believe it is good to have some strong opinions up top managing the team, with a proven track record of making the right decisions putting a squad together. To this day, although the team might not follow the plan to the letter, I believe his plan has had a tremendous impact on the Red Bulls.

What’s next?

Despite Curtis making some controversial decisions in terms of players, let’s give him a chance. He had his hands tied with Vazquez and Giovinco in my opinion, and I believe that he can implement a solid plan over the course of the season and the next few seasons that will build a good long-term future for this franchise.