MANITOBA, Canada—As silly season begins its pre-match routine, Toronto FC have continued to play their cards close to their vest in regard to any potential additions to the squad, utilizing their third Designated Player (DP) spot or otherwise. Following Pablo Piatti’s departure for Elche CF at the end of last season, the DP spot has been vacant, taunting us with possibility, leading us to wild speculation, and wildly speculate we will.
Toronto have had mixed success with bringing in players with European or South American pedigree throughout the club’s history. For every Sebastian Giovinco and Alejandro Pozuelo we’ve been able to dote over, we’ve had a Laurent Robert and a Gregory van der Weil to rant about on the way home (In my opinion, giving a fullback the #9 was just setting that up for failure from the start). But, things have been trending upwards as the club has moved forward as an organization. Piatti, for his short time with the club will be remembered generally positively by supporters and should offer encouragement about the calibre of player the club is aiming to bring in. The Rafael Santos Borré rumours should offer the same encouragement. For TFC to be brought up as a legitimate option amongst the clubs being linked with him shows the growth in stature of the club and the league.
With Bill Manning recently alluding, in conversation with Waking the Red Weekly presented by Footy Talks, to the club looking at players in the potential transfer fee range of the “tens of millions of dollars”, we have a bit more definition to the kind of player the club may be targeting and an idea about their aspirations in the market.
With that, and the idea that the club is targeting a player in their mid-to-late 20s that can grow with the squad, in mind, let’s take a look at a few players to bolster the attack that could fit the…er...Bill’s bill:
ST - Paul Onunachu | 26 years old | Genk
If we’re going to dream, let’s dream big. I mean that literally, as the first player on our list is a striker that clocks in at 6’7”.
He’s big, he’s (hopefully) red, his feet stick out the bed, he’s Paul Onuachu! Onuachu comes to us from familiar territory in the Belgian Jupiter Pro League, plying his trade for Genk. Of course, Genk is where Alejandro Pozuelo joined Toronto FC from, so why not go back to what we know!
Onuachu is currently in phenomenal form with 27 goals and 2 assists in 32 games across all competitions which has him has the top goal scorer in the Jupiter Pro League.
He’s great in the air (did I mention he’s 6’7”?) and a significant portion of his goals come from headers ( he’s SIX FOOT SEVEN INCHES TALL), but he isn’t just a target man as he has also shown great awareness on the pitch to create opportunities and space for his teammates, will work to win back possession and, of course, win areal duels around the pitch. He has maintained both positive dribbling and passing success rates in recent seasons, so think less Peter Crouch and more…Stretch Armstrong Miroslav Klose.
And in that Klose mold, Onuachu makes his money in and around the 6 yard box. You want goals? Paul will be there to bang them in for you and with him turning 27 in May, he fits right into the sweet spot of the age range that the club is targeting.
There has been some speculation that teams in Ligue 1 may be poking around, but if Pozuelo’s move to TFC around the same age is anything to go by, this may be the perfect time for Onuachu to make the move to MLS.
CF/ST | Joshua King | 29 years old | Everton
Back in January, Josh King was certainly a popular name being bounded about in the media. With rumours of interest from a majority of the top-six premiership sides (including Manchester United reigniting interest for their former youngster after a reportedly failed £25m pound bid the previous January), the situation eventually came down to a pitch-off between Everton and Fulham. King opted for the Blue of Merseyside and it’s safe to say that things haven’t quite gone to plan so far.
His move from Bournemouth was only for the final six months of the season and of his contract, so he’s available on a free transfer, leaving Toronto open to spend on reinforcements elsewhere if they decide that he’s their man. Recently, with the rumours that his former boss Eddie Howe is set to take the helm at Celtic, he’s being linked with a reunion in Glasgow but he could be tempted away by the potential of being a bigger star in North America.
King is at the top end of the targeted age range at 29, but he is definitely still in his prime and certainly still has a high ceiling for what he can bring to the club (As someone who is alarmingly close to turning 29 myself, I would like to reiterate the point that he’s still in his prime). The 2020/21 season has not been a kind one to King, with the attacker only registering three goals and two assists in 14 matches for Bournemouth before his move to Everton, where he has yet to score in a role entirely from the bench. Despite these struggles, he has shown the ability to produce in the Premier League, playing for a Bournemouth team that, save for one season, was a perennial relegation candidate.
King predominately operates as a secondary striker, looking to make runs off of a strike partner or from a deeper starting position than the man leading the line. King has shown that he has a keen sense for positioning and that often lands him in the right place at the right time to get on the end of a pass, a knock-on, or to bang home a secondary opportunity. He has shown the ability to create his own opportunity and the confidence to shoot from outside of the box with power and accuracy. King can also operate from wider positions, having lined up on the left-wing for Bournemouth. He is very quick and his ability to run with the ball while maintaining this pace makes him a valuable asset to open up defenses or catch a team on the counter.
CF/RW/LW | Jonathan Rodríguez | 27 years old | Cruz Azul
Rodríguez has most prominently entered our collective footballing consciousness by being on the wrong end of this refereeing blunder, but the 27 year-old’s luck is usually much, much better for his club Cruz Azul.
In 31 games across all competitions he has 19 goals and 5 assists, building on his strong showing of 17 goals and 2 assists in 25 games last season. Rodríguez predominately lines up as a centre-forward and likes to drift wide to his left from this position. Cruz Azul have found success in formations that allow him to roam, often with a strike partner or with a high attacking midfielder, which would lend well to the personnel Toronto have on hand. This roaming ability opens up space for teammates, causing for defenders to have to make quick decisions about defensive switches leading to gaps in coverage or missed assignments. He isn’t bound to just attacking from out wide, however, as this season Rodríguez has registered a high number of touches in the box, averaging 3.54 touches per 90 minutes this season.
His ability to score and create from wide areas has led to him often being utilized on either wing, which would grant Chris Armas more tactical flexibility. Rodríguez has been on the upward trajectory with his scoring in recent seasons and is certainly just entering his prime at 27. Transfermarkt has his market value listed at $8.25m, which could be a bargain for a player who looks like he may well have his best yet to come.
CF/LW | Haris Seferovic | 29 years old | Benfica
Of all the players on this list, Seferovic is certainly the player with the highest pedigree. He’s played in the highest divisions in Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Italy, and is currently in Portugal with Benfica, playing in the Europa League, the Champions League, the UEFA Nations League, the European Championships and two World Cups along the way.
Seferovic has developed into talented and composed finisher in recent seasons and takes full advantage of his 6’1” frame to get the better of defenders, often by using his strength or his great aerial ability. This season, he has registered 18 goals and 4 assists through 37 games in all competitions despite testing positive for COVID-19 in December.
With this good form in recent seasons, he has attracted interest from bigger clubs, but Benfica have chosen to hang on to their man in form to bolster their domestic and European ambitions. Despite this, Seferovic has seen his starting minutes slip a little this season, starting only 58 per cent of games in Liga NOS, which could spark his interest in moving abroad to be a star man for Toronto.
Although he is starting less, he still finds himself as Benfica’s leading scorer by some margin with 14 goals in 21 games, with Luca Waldschmidt coming in second with 6 goals in 20 appearances.
His adaptability in attack plays a role in his effectiveness, with him being utilized this season as either a main striker or as a secondary deeper laying forward as well as featuring on the left-wing in recent seasons. Transfermarkt has his current market value listed at $13.2m, so he’s within the same valuation-range as Santos Borré. Seferovic’s increasing ability in recent seasons to score against a variety of opponents across a variety of different competitions as well as his ability to show up in big matches makes him an ideal candidate to add to a Toronto side looking to take the final step in the CONCACAF Champions League.
CF/LW/RW | Gaëtan Laborde | 26 years old | Montpellier
This spot could have gone two ways between Laborde and his teammate Andy Delort. Both have almost identical scoring records this season, with Delort having scored 11 goals and 8 assists in 23 matches in all competitions and Laborde scoring 11 and assisting 7 in 32 appearances. Both are impressive feats considering that though Montpellier currently sit 8th in the Ligue 1 table, they have a negative goal differential and neither player has scored from the penalty spot this season.
I have opted to give the edge to Laborde for a few reasons, the first of which being his positional versatility. Delort has been utilized exclusively as a striker in recent seasons, and while Laborde has heavily featured as a striker this season, he has also lined up on both wings as well as sitting deeper as both a right and left midfielder, contributing from each position. Laborde is also younger than the 29-year-old Delort, which would give Toronto a bridge between the age differences in their attack. He is almost as close in age to Ayo Akinola as he is to Jozy Altidore and having a competent, accomplished attacking player in place for the next iteration of this team would set them up well for continued success.
Laborde is a technical player, who likes to play with the ball at his feet and is able to dribble past defenders to get into position to score or create, which would fit in well in tandem with Pozuelo or moving to compliment Altidore’s position up top. When paired up top with Delort for Montpellier, he has a tendency to drop deep to link up play or to make runs into the box to draw attackers to him before laying the ball off.
He has also shown great intelligence on the pitch with the ability to time his actions extremely well, allowing him to score from a variety of situations, including establishing himself as an option in the air despite being shorter than the average centreback at 5’11”. Out of possession, he possesses the capability and willingness to contribute to a high-energy press, which lines up well with Armas’ high-intensity approach. Laborde’s ability to form an effective partnership with a player like Delort could translate very well to the tactics Armas may look to employ in tandem with Altidore or Akinola up top. Laborde’s current value on Transfermarkt is $14.3M (which is cheaper than Delort by a few million) which keeps him well within the targeted range.
Understandably, clubs around the world are feeling the financial strain of the pandemic and many of these clubs may look to cash their chips in while they can to offset these issues if given the opportunity. Targeting teams from the smaller leagues in Europe and scouting in South America and Mexico could offer Toronto good value for their dollar while not necessarily sacrificing the quality of player they could acquire. If Bill Manning and co. have cash in hand are ready to spend it, they will have an advantage over many teams who may be looking for payment plans and could end up at the front of the queue as a result. There may be some big swings on this list, but Toronto would do well to ask the question.