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5 best and worst moves of Ali Curtis’ tenure as Toronto FC GM

Ali Curtis’ tenure as General Manager of Toronto FC will be polarizing, to say the least. Let’s take a look back.

SOCCER: JAN 11 MLS SuperDraft Photo by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One day after the conclusion of Toronto FC’s worst season since 2012, GM Ali Curtis and TFC have mutually agreed to part ways. Curtis’ tenure in Toronto, which was underwhelming to say the least, can be summed up by the five best and worst moves made by TFC’s front office from his first season in 2019 to his last in 2021.

Curtis’ Best Moves

1. Signing Pozuelo

Alejandro Pozuelo was arguably Curtis’ most effective signing. When Curtis first took over TFC in 2019, the reds were in desperate need for a superstar calibre player to help regain the confidence of fans after the departure of club legend, Sebastian Giovinco. In Pozuelo’s first ever game with the reds he scored two goals and added an assist in a memorable night at BMO field en route to a MLS finals appearance for TFC, wherein he was used in the run up as a false 9 on a depleted squad. Pozuelo continued his dominance in 2020, winning MVP of the league.. Unfortunatley for Curtis and TFC, Pozuelo was unable to replicate his success the following season due to combination of injuries and issues off the pitch. His future with the club may not be set in stone, but overall the signing of Pozuelo was one of Curtis’ best.

2. Taking a chance on Richie Laryea

Ali Curtis has to take some praise for the signing and emergence of Canadian international Richie Laryea. The 26-year-old from Toronto, who did not have his contract renewed by Orlando City following the 2018 campaign, caught TFC management's eye when he was a training camp invitee prior to the 2019 season. Laryea was not scouted by Curtis, however he was officially signed to the TFC roster in March 2019 when Curtis was in charge. The obvious argument against Curtis with the Laryea signing is that Tim Bezbatchenko (TFC’s GM from September 2013 - January 2019) did all the work except get Laryea to sign the professional contract. While that may be true, the fact that Curtis was the GM when Laryea signed with TFC means that this signing technically counts as one of Curtis’ best. It is also worth noting that Curtis was able to sign Laryea to a contract extension in June of 2020. Since signing his new contract Laryea has not only become a consistent defender for Toronto but also a crucial part of the Canadian Men’s National Team.

3. Bringing Benezet in on loan

While the 2019 season seems like a distant memory to TFC fans at this point, one of the most important players on that team was brought in by Ali Curtis halfway through the year. Nicolas Benezet joined TFC on loan, with an option to buy, from the French side EA Guinamp on July 29th 2019. Benezet’s career in Toronto was short but sweet, appearing in just 13 matches. In his brief stint with the reds, Benezet was able to score three goals, including a massive goal in the that helped TFC defeat Atlanta United 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Similar to Pozuelo, the Benezet signing looked brilliant in 2019, however in both cases the signings became less impressive the following season. TFC was unable to bring Benezet back as the situation with targeted allocation money (TAM) became extremely difficult after captain Michael Bradley signed a TAM contract during the 2020 off-season. The only way Benezet could have signed back with TFC would have been if he took a significant pay cut. This obviously did not happen as Benezet’s rights were instead traded to the Colorado Rapids for $50,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM). Benezet’s impact during the 2019 playoff run alone makes him one of Curtis’ best moves as TFC GM.

4. Signing Experienced Defender Omar Gonzalez

The Gonzalez signing was yet another move that propelled TFC to the MLS finals in 2019. In hindsight, signing a 30-year-old Gonzalez to a multi year contract may not have been ideal, but TFC were in dire need of an experienced defender to lead their back-line into the playoffs. Curtis deserves credit for this signing because of how persistent he was on getting the player he felt his team needed. The deal to aquire Gonzalez fell apart several times before Curtis was able to settle on a small transfer fee in the $200k range to get the player he wanted from Atlas Guadalajara. Like most of Curtis’ signings, Gonzalez has regressed since his transfer in 2019, although this was expected given the fact that he is an ageing defender. One major bright spot that has improved in Gonzalez’s game is his scoring ability. Obviously as a defender his job is not to score, but in 2021 Gonzalez scored three goals, which was pleasantly surprising considering he had one goal for TFC in the previous two seasons. Gonzalez did solidify TFC’s back-line in 2019 and he is still an active member of the team. For those reasons alone he should be considered one of Curtis’ best signings.

5. Promoting Players from Within

The most important aspect of maintaining a successful sports franchise is preparing for the future in the present. TFC’s front office has done a masterful job of scouting, developing and promoting academy talent to the first team since Curtis took over as GM in 2019. Curtis will be rightfully ridiculed for TFC’s lack of success during his tenure, but he does deserve credit for promoting young talent to the first team. This season alone saw players such as Jacob Shaffelburg, Ralph Priso, Jordan Peruzza, Julian Dunn, Noble Okello, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Jayden Nelson, and Luke Singh earn quality minutes with Toronto FC’s first team. Toronto FC has established a winning culture and nothing short of a championship mindset is acceptable with this team. With that being said, Curtis failed to provide an MLS championship in his time with the club, but his legacy may be altered if the players he helped promote to the first team go on to have successful careers with TFC.

Curtis’ worst moves

  1. TAM on Gallardo

Whether it is fair or not, Erickson Gallardo is one of Ali Curtis’ worst signings as GM of Toronto FC. The Venezuelan forward was brought in during the summer of 2019 to provide speed and versatility on the wing for TFC. There was great expectations following the Gallardo signing because TFC brought him in using Targeted Allocation Money (TAM). When a team uses TAM to sign a player they expect him to be a consistent contributor to the team. Unfortunately Gallardo was never able to find his footing here in Toronto. He has been riddled with injures and inconsistent play resulting in him playing a grand total of 16 games in three years with the club where he has scored zero goals and one assist. At 25 years old it surely has to be too soon to write off Gallardo as a player, but during Curtis’ tenure, Gallardo has to be regarded as one of his worst signings.

2. Failed experiments at striker (Boyd and Dwyer)

Toronto FC has experimented with several strikers throughout Curtis’ tenure, none of which come close to the disappointments of Terrence Boyd and Dom Dwyer. The fact that Terrence Boyd was a starting striker in the Budesliga and for the US Men’s National Team was obviously appealing to Curtis when he signed him. Boyd was such a bad fit for Toronto that he only lasted 13 games before he and TFC mutually agreed to part ways. The saddest part about Boyd’s time in Toronto is that his only memorable moment was a missed penalty kick against Independiente in the CONCACAF Champions League. Dom Dwyer on the other hand has had as many memorable moments with TFC as he had shots on target in his first season with the reds, zero! Dwyer, who was brought in as a free agent in May of 2021, was described by Curtis as “a powerful attacking player that has experience scoring goals in this league.” In 15 games this past season Dwyer had zero goals, one assist and as mentioned earlier, zero shots on target.

3. Not a Great Trade (Hamilton for Mullins)

In 2019 Ali Curtis had one goal in mind, win an MLS championship. What we now realize is that some of the moves he made ended up haunting TFC years later. In July of 2019 Curtis traded Jordan Hamilon to Columbus Crew for Patrick Mullins. The main reasoning for this move was to provide experience off the bench for TFC’s playoff run that year. At the time of the trade Mullins was 27 years old while Hamilton was just 22, so the justification of experience was somewhat valid. Hamilton played in 66 games for TFC scoring 15 goals and five assists. After the 2021 season Mullins sits at 63 games for TFC scoring seven goals and three assists. There are obviously several factors that go into players statistics, but the fact that Curtis traded a 22-year-old Canadian striker who was performing at a serviceable rate for an older striker who has contributed significantly less means that Curtis’ plan backfired on him and thus is one of his worst moves.

4. Drafting Dorsey

Griffin Dorsey was a highly regarded player coming out of college who never really got a fair chance to start for TFC. Dorsey played in five total games over three seasons with Toronto FC. After failing to record a goal or assist in his first five games, Dorsey was placed on waivers in May of 2021 where he eventually became a free agent. Dorsey was signed two months later by Houston Dynamo where he played twenty games recording two goals and three assists. The fact that Curtis selected Dorsey 6th overall in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft was not the problem at this draft. The problem with this draft pick was that Tajon Buchanan was available and Curtis did not pick him. New England Revolution ended up picking Buchanan 9th overall, three picks after Dorsey. In 2021 alone Buchanan helped the Revolution win the Supporters’ Shield, finished second in MLS Young Player of the Year voting and became a crucial member of the Canadian Men’s National Team. Curtis had a chance to draft a Canadian superstar onto the reds, but instead he selected a player who played five games for TFC.

5. Soteldo

This final bad signing by Curtis is only on this list because it really should have been his best. Yeferson Soteldo was brought to TFC with the hopes that he would develop into the star designated player that he always had the potential to be. It appears as though this will not be the case for the Venezuelan forward as after just 24 games Soteldo is heavily rumoured to be leaving TFC. The 24-year-old showed glimpses of his talent this season as he was embarrassingly the reds leading scorer with three goals and six assists. The most disappointing part about Soteldo wanting out so soon is that the next GM of Toronto FC will have to clean up the mess that Curtis left. If Soteldo is sold to a team outside of the MLS, which is likely the case, then his former team, Santos will retain a 12.5 percent sell-on fee from the deal. Whether you want to look at the fact that TFC will be losing a talented player after playing just 24 games for them or the fact that they will not even be able to obtain full financial value for him, the moral of the story is that this signing was yet another failure during the tenure of Ali Curtis.