TORONTO, Canada—With 2021 Major League Soccer player salaries having been released by the MLSPA for the first time since 2019, we finally get to pull the curtain back a bit on what’s going on behind the scenes and play a little bit of armchair GM.
As Isaiah Sinclair illustrated earlier this week, Toronto FC may in fact be the highest spending club in MLS when all is said and done—and that’s simply the price they have to pay to maintain such continuity from year to year.
While Toronto FC are maximizing the usage of their salary budget, spending close to the limit, there are some hidden gems in terms of contracts on this roster that have enabled the team to go out and add another player like Kemar Lawrence or Dom Dwyer.
So let’s get into it. Here are the best five contracts on Toronto FC this season, in my opinion.
(Disclaimer: This list does not factor in the potential salaries Yeferson Soteldo, Kemar Lawrence, Dom Dwyer as they have not been released yet by the Players Association)
(All numbers listed are guaranteed compensation in USD as per the MLSPA)
5. Eriq Zavaleta - ($84,219)
Eriq Zavaleta has been the subject of heavy criticism from the Toronto FC fanbase in the past, some warranted, some perhaps a bit too harsh, but with over 138 appearances made for Toronto FC since arriving in 2015, there’s no doubt that his senior minimum salary is worth every penny for a player of his experience.
Not only does Zavaleta rank eighth all-time on the Reds’ appearances list, he’s also shown that he can still slot in and get the job done when TFC’s starters are not healthy, evident in their opening-leg 1-1 draw in Mexico against Club Leon, as well as a run of sporadic matches last season.
Is he the best backup centreback in MLS? No, but he’s not getting paid like one either, nor is he getting played like one with only two appearances to date so far this season. And at 28 years old, he’s not in the twilight of his career either.
On top of that, several Toronto FC youngsters have voiced that ‘Zavs’ is one of the players that they look up to in the locker room, with his ability to keep things light. It’s difficult to measure just how important that facet is, but it’s clear that, at least behind the scenes, he’s a voice that TFC players and staff pay attention to when he has something to say.
“Alejandro Pozuelo and guys in the stands urging things along, and Eriq Zavaleta, some of these guys really pulling for each other because it’s important that we get going here with some points and a victory,” said Toronto FC head coach Chris Armas following the club’s first MLS win of the season over the Columbus Crew.
Now that Zavaleta isn’t making $296,962 like he was on his previous contract, it’s time we give the MLS veteran some love for the role that he plays on this Toronto FC team.
4. Chris Mavinga - ($887,500)
While Chris Mavinga is the sixth-highest paid player on this roster (when you factor in Soteldo’s contract), there’s an argument to be made that the 29 year old may actually be the most important player for Toronto FC this season besides the reigning MVP Alejandro Pozuelo.
Omar Gonzalez has looked more settled of late at the back, but a lot of that has to do with his partnership with Mavinga. ‘The Magic Eraser’ as James Grossi referred to him as on our Waking the Red Weekly Podcast this week, the French youth international has the ability to clean up mistakes at the back fairly quickly with his blistering pace and tackling prowess.
He recently re-signed with Toronto FC at the beginning of 2020, and his $887,500 is a decent increase over the $663,333 he was making in 2019, however, with Gonzalez earning $1,055,936, one can easily make the case that Mavinga is underpaid, especially entering what appear to be his prime years.
He’s made over 100 appearances for this club before turning 30—a significant milestone—and I’d even go as far as saying that he may go down as the best defender to represent Toronto FC when all is said and done, with all due respect to Drew Moor.
Couple that with his ability to fit a high-pressing style of play that Armas wants to employ, and you have one of the more valuable contracts on this TFC roster.
3. Michael Bradley - ($1,500,000)
Michael Bradley does not get enough love for the decision he made at the start of last season: taking significantly less money—a roughly five-million dollar pay cut—to return to Toronto FC, thus giving up his designated player status and allowing the team greater financial flexibility to target another designated player.
At $1.5 million a season, the Toronto FC captain is the fourth highest paid member of the squad behind only Alejandro Pozuelo, Jozy Altidore, and of course Yeferson Soteldo, whose salary has not been released by the MLSPA (because he was signed after April 15).
Behind closed doors, Bradley is a culture-definer within the organization, and it’s possible that Bradley has been the Reds’ best player this season, if not the most consistent, appearing in every minute of every match so far under new head coach Chris Armas.
The Captain does so much more beyond what we see on the pitch for Toronto FC and he’s a major reason why Toronto FC are able to field such a strong roster.
2. Ayo Akinola - ($157,513)
Say what you will about Ayo Akinola’s start to this season, but after the year that he had in 2020, his $157,513 is a steal for what he can bring to the table when he’s in form.
Akinola led all of MLS in goals per 90 a year ago in what was his first real run of play at just 20 years of age.
After being sidelined for the better part of three months, including for the majority of preseason, he’s still rounding into form and shape, but that’s expected for a player who is still yet to go the full 90 in a match this season. In addition, Akinola hasn’t had his partner in crime Alejandro Pozuelo—or any real No. 10—to provide the service someone of his playing style requires.
There’s ample reason to believe that the now-21-year-old’s best is still yet to come, and again, after the year he had last year, his current salary is a steal.
Akinola’s contract is set to expire at the end of 2021, and he’ll be looking for a big raise, whether that’s with Toronto FC or somewhere abroad.
He’s certainly a candidate to occupy TFC’s only ‘young money’ spot—a new wrinkle to the collective bargaining agreement that enables a team to spend beyond the maximum salary budget charge on a U-22 player without being dinged for it—but if Akinola can re-find his form sooner rather than later, you can expect many teams overseas will be ringing Bill Manning and Ali Curtis’ lines asking for their coveted young star.
1. Richie Laryea - ($226,953)
Richie Laryea could very well be the best fullback in MLS, yet, he’s making less money than Patrick Mullins, Nick DeLeon, and Erickson Gallardo.
After walking on with Toronto FC in 2019, he earned $56,250, the reserve minimum salary, according to the MLS Players Association, but his outstanding play warranted a pay raise last June, where his salary has been bumped up to a modest $226,953.
But for a player who finished sixth in MLS Defender of the Year voting lasts season, finding his name on the MLS Team of the Week a staggering four times in 2020—a player that continues to get better and better—his contract has to be the biggest bargain on this Toronto FC roster, another great piece of business by Ali Curtis and co.
After scoring four goals and adding five assists in 20 appearances last season, Laryea continues to be a the Reds’ biggest threat down the right side of the pitch, already scoring once in five MLS matches this season, going the full 90 in each of his appearances thus far.
While his current play already warrants a much bigger price tag than his current contract, at just 26 years old, there’s ample reason to believe that the best version of the Canadian international is still to come.
Now this is just my list, and there are several other TFC names that could find their way into the top five, so let’s hear from you: what are your five best contracts for Toronto FC this season? Let us know in the comments!