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25 year old Rafael Santos Borré is too old and TFC shouldn’t sign him—wait, what?

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The Waking the Red Weekly crew discuss how the league’s new under-22 player initiative may be what’s stalling TFC’s hunt for their third designated player.

River Plate v Rosario Central - Copa De La Liga Profesional 2021
Rafael Santos Borre of River Plate celebrates after scoring the first goal of his team during a match between River Plate and Rosario Central.
(Endelli/Getty Images)

Before the pandemic hit, he was on the verge of becoming a €30 million player. At 25, he’s three years younger than Sebastian Giovinco when he joined Toronto FC. And as a number 9, he has a proven track record of scoring goals at a high clip.

On paper, at least, Rafael Santos Borré is everything Toronto FC is looking for in a new Designated Player, but a rumoured MLS initiative may have suddenly changed the face of the deal—and could have significant ramifications throughout the league as a whole.

Although the full details are yet to be confirmed, in this week’s episode of Waking The Red Weekly presented by Footy Talks, Michael Singh broke down the intricacies of a new under-22 initiative that might just change the MLS scouting landscape forever:

“Obviously TFC have been linked to Raphael Santos Borre and we’ve talked about it on this show for weeks. But here’s why I think TFC shouldn’t sign him,” started Singh.

Sam Stejskal of The Athletic reported about Major League Soccer’s new under-22 player initiative which is going to be implemented this season [...] Clubs are able to name one or three players under that initiative which essentially gives them a lower cap hit than what they’re actually spending on the player.”

“So hypothetically, you could pay a young player $500,000 or $600,000 but their budget cost only comes out at $150,000—which is great. But you can only use three of those if one of your Designated Players is under the age of 22.”

“Right now, Toronto FC obviously don’t have that. They have Alejandro Pozuelo who’s 29 years old and Jozy Altidore who’s 31. So if TFC goes ahead and signs [25 year old] Santos Borré, that takes away flexibility because now they can only use one of those under-22 initiative spots [as opposed to three]. And the way that Sam Stejskal worded it is that this initiative could be as game-changing one day as the Designated Player/Beckham Rule and the TAM/Allocation Money Rule.”

For Jeffrey P. Nesker, missing out on Borré to exploit the new rule could prove a double edged sword. If you factor in issues like overall roster spend and the importance of developing existing academy players, while the new initiative might provide clubs with different options, it certainly doesn’t offer a one-size-fits all solution:

“It’s a smart play on paper,” responded Nesker. “The thing that I’m laughing about right now is that two years ago if TFC were pursuing a 25 year old forward DP, we’d all be doing backflips. I mean Seba was 28 when he came in. But now that’s not good enough—we need to get him at the zygote stage!”

“Obviously [you need to consider] the machinations of it and what it means in terms of a roster spend—AND bear in mind the state of our academy. If we want to pay the likes of (Nelson) and Ayo (Akinola) over-and-above, we gotta have a DP in the mix that allows for that.”

“But it’s a lot of hoops to jump through. And at the very beginning of the obstacle course is: who is this magical 21 year old DP-worthy player? Do we get to choose? Is it going to be a number 9 or is it a centre back? And if it is a centre back, are we so in love with the idea of gaming the system—Bezbatchenko style—that we’re willing to sign a 21 year old centre back Designated Player and absorb the ire and the laughs of all the other clubs?”

Other factors to consider are the short-term time frame of the current roster and the potential resale value of any incoming talent. For Singh, with Altidore nearing the end of his tenure at the club, and with a wealth of talent still developing in the academy, it’s legitimate to ask if TFC might be better served this season by a more experienced Designated Player:

“I wanted to highlight this because it could be what the delay is with TFC’s decision to get a new DP. Do they go younger or do they get someone in their prime right now?”

“In my opinion, with the up and coming young talent that Toronto FC have on their roster, they might have time to go a year or two without using it, and then perhaps use it on one of the younger guys?”

It’s [also] the cost right? Let’s say that Raphael Santos Borre is a player that would regularly command an eight figure transfer fee. So if he is that player, then it might just be worth forgoing the extra two under-22 player initiative spots and just settling for the one—and going ahead with Santos Borre [until] Jozy Altidore’s contract ends.”

“It’s an interesting debate and you could see it going either way. Because if TFC want to maximize their spending, the way to do that is getting these under-22 initiative players.”

We’ll turn it over to you now. Given the landscape of the under-22 player initative, what are your thoughts on Toronto FC signing Rafael Santos Borré?

And for everything TFC—check out the full episode of this week’s Waking the Red Weekly now, also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify! Kindly like, rate, and subscribe!