TORONTO, Ont.—Toronto FC are in a position most of us currently want to be: under the hot Florida sun, probably sipping on a piña colada or two.
Trying to get back into game shape after a short offseason, the Reds are likely working hard at training camp in Orlando as a few of their talented youngsters battle it out for a spot on a competitive 2020 roster—a roster that’s virtually the same as the one that reached the MLS Cup Final in 2019.
However, one expensive, glaring gap on the squad still remains, and it’s starting to become the elephant in the room when speaking with club officials.
“... We’re continuing having discussions with different clubs and different players and when there’s news we’ll let you know,” TFC general manager Ali Curtis recently told reporters, when asked for an update on the team’s progress acquiring a designated player (DP).
With the names being floated around #TFCLive, there’s good reason that fans are anxious to see the splash the Reds are inevitably going to make in the transfer market in 2020.
And while most would obviously like to see the new BMO Field sensation sooner rather than later, after a deeper dive, there are a few reasons why it may make sense for the Reds to actually hold off until July to sign their new DP.
Clubs don’t want to sell players midseason
Over the course of a season, there are two major transfer windows.
The first for the MLS officially runs Feb. 12-May 5, 2020 (though many deals are already being announced ahead of the start of the season). The second window stretches from Jul. 7-Aug. 5, 2020.
As you may have noticed, the MLS’s secondary transfer window is substantially shorter than the one during the offseason, just like other leagues around the world. However, the key discrepancy here is that other major professional soccer leagues start their seasons in August, whereas the MLS (due to inclement weather among other factors) begin theirs in late February-early March.
The underlying problem? Other leagues around the world are typically inclined to wait until their seasons are over to sell players, as opposed to weakening their squads midseason.
“Yeah sometimes,” responded Curtis, when asked if it’s easier to make acquisitions during the summer. “The players are available at different times, and sometimes—at least from a European stand point—this is the middle of their season, so it makes it a little more challenging to get those players out of their contracts from their clubs in this moment and you saw a little bit of that with Pozuelo [last season].”
In other words, since there are generally more players on the market during the summer, it would (in theory) be easier for an MLS club to wait until then to make the right addition.
A mantra, if you will, that Toronto FC has been constantly referring to coming into 2020 is a simple one: consistency.
“I think there’s probably one or two more moves that we have that will be made,” TFC GM Curtis recently told MLSsoccer.com, “but a big goal of ours was consistency, and to bring the core of the team back … We view consistency as a really important principle.”
When you’ve been as successful as Toronto FC has, that consistency comes at a price.
Jonathan Osorio, who earned roughly $153,000 USD in 2015, earned five times more ($776,250) in 2019. Similarly so, Marky Delgado made $82,500 five years ago, but has since established himself as a regular in Toronto’s side, earning $253,000 last season.
With TFC bringing back most of their core, it’s difficult to see the club being able to fit everyone (under the budget) while still making several additions. But what if there was a way?
“In 2019, a Designated Player who is at least 24 years old during the League Year will carry the Maximum Salary Budget Charge ($530,000) unless the player joins his club after the opening of the Secondary Transfer Window, in which case his budget charge will be $265,000.”
In other words, according to MLS rules, if you sign a player half way through the season, their salary budget charge (aka cap hit) will be prorated. With a team that constantly spends close to the threshold, would it make sense to hold off a few more months on signing a new DP to add further depth?
Mandatory Young DP?
While teams delicately build their squads for the 2020 season, negotiations are currently ongoing between the league and players to renew the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which is set to expire in 2021.
As a result, significant changes to the MLS’s current setup could be on the horizon.
“As MLS and the MLS Players Association continue negotiating a new CBA, the league is having a separate internal discussion that could have massive ramifications for how teams build their rosters. According to several high-level league and club sources, MLS is entertaining proposals to change its designated player system.” —Sam Stejskal, The Athletic
Stejskal’s report earlier this month further goes on to state that certain owners are pushing for a rule that makes it mandatory for a club to have one of its DPs under the age of 23. It’s unclear of the specific reason, though Stejskal does mention that the league wants to begin selling players (and it’s easier to sell younger players), in addition to possibly once again creating more parity.
If MLS makes any changes, they likely wouldn’t go into effect until 2021, but it’s not immediately clear whether the league would allow teams to grandfather current DPs into a new system or if clubs would have to immediately become compliant, according to Stejskal.
Now how does this effect TFC?
Well, not only last season would the Reds not have been compliant under the proposed regulations with all three of their DPs (Pozuelo, Altidore, and Bradley) over the age of 23, but they also wouldn’t have been in 2017 when they won the treble; it would be a slightly different ideology moving forward.
Currently, Toronto’s two DPs (Pozuelo and Altidore) are well older than 23 and both have at least two years remaining on their contracts. So with this in mind, does it make sense for Curtis and co. to bring in another DP (over the age of 23) without further clarity on the direction that the league is heading? Or should they hold off a few months, to see if anything further develops, to make their splash?
Should Toronto FC wait to sign a new DP?
This poll is closed
No, we need to add one ASAP
If the right move isn’t there, wait until the summer
What does Toronto FC say?
When speaking to TFC officials, it’s rarely been a case of when, but more importantly who.
“Our group last January-February is much different than our group now. In terms of last year, there were a few player departures, and we really were looking for a No. 10—a player that could step in and that was veteran,” said Toronto FC GM Curtis. “... I think the team is so strong in this moment right now that we have the ability to be really measured and specific about that particular player.”
Essentially, Curtis is pointing out that the club will not be rushed into signing a DP thanks to the fact that the team is bringing back virtually the same squad that strung together a 13-match undefeated run in MLS action to return to the Finals. However, it doesn’t mean that he thinks waiting is the correct course of action.
“We’re evaluating all different scenarios, all different plans, and if we wait until the summer, of course we’ll be able to be a little bit more specific in terms of what our needs are,” conceded Curtis. “Ideally, I think it’s always best if you can bring a player early... but sometimes you don’t have complete control of those things, but we’re working every single day to make sure we find the right player that is the right fit.”
While Curtis does mention that it’s possibly easier for TFC to make the right move during the summer, his head coach doesn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye.
“Very few for me,” added TFC Coach Greg Vanney, when asked about the benefits of bringing a player in during the secondary transfer window. “I think bringing one in now brings that player the best opportunity to integrate into the team. It’s well documented over the course of the league that there’s a lot of players that come in midseason, not many hit the ground running or adapt to our league, which is a unique league.”
“The first game is just as important as the 17th game, which is just as important as the 34th game,” added Vanney. “And our team, I want us to be focused on trying to win the East, and win the Supporters Shield, and play every game like every point matters…we want to try and have every player available for any game whenever possible.”
Regardless of whether or not Toronto FC do indeed go out and bring in a new DP before they kickoff the season on Feb. 29 in San Jose, from speaking with TFC management and those around the club, they all share the same mentality.
“I’m excited about the players that exist that are kind of in our wheelhouse to go get,” wrapped up Vanney. “When the time is right, we have to be decisive and we have to go make it happen, and that’s really kind of the next step.”