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SAHOTA: Bring Junior Hoilett home

It’s time to bring Junior Hoilett home, writes Tej Sahota.

Soccer: CONCACAF Nations League Soccer-USA at Canada Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

At some point during the 2021 Gold Cup, someone on Twitter made a joke that they knew Canada was improving because only one player belonged to ‘Unattached FC’. I giggled a little, but figured it was probably one of the younger call-ups who was just sitting on the bench. It did not even occur to me for a moment that it could be a player of Junior Hoilett’s stature.

After some clarity from Jeff and Charlie, I was surprised to learn that Junior was out of contract with Cardiff City, and essentially an unrestricted free agent. With this information in hand, I turned to the one place I always go to when I have a half basked idea and want to share it with everyone...Twitter. So with a random tweet about “bring Junior home to Toronto FC!” I went back to watching the game, and the usual likes from both #TFCLive fans and #CanMNT fans, it was about an hour or two after the game, I saw someone like my tweet that really caught my eye.

Junior Hoilett. Blue checkmark and all.

Turns out, the Brampton native has been prolific on Twitter clicking Like on any tweet mentioning him returning to the Greater Toronto Area and suiting up for the Reds. Well, with interest firmly established from the Junior Hoilett, who has also voiced his desire publicly in the past to one day play for his hometown club, the question then becomes: “does it make sense for Toronto FC?”

So let’s try and parse this out in this space and see whether there is a fit between the player and his hometown club.

First thing is first, even with my limited understanding of the byzantine salary cap rules of Major League Soccer, I can deduce that Toronto FC have little-to-no cap space left. Like peanuts. Therefore, any discussion about bringing in a player of Junior Hoilett’s caliber is presented with the caveat that in order to bring him in, someone else making decent money would have to leave.

Luckily, there are a few candidates for that spot. Erickson Gallardo at $331,913 USD and at a TAM contract is the perfect piece to move to free up space for the signing, while some extra dollars could be cleared up by moving a Nick DeLeon. Yes, this would involve Junior taking a pay cut, but with DP slots all used and most of the TAM being used to bring down Michael Bradley’s contract, somewhere around $450k (prorated for the remaining season) is about what Junior could expect if he’s indeed serious to play in front of his friends and family at BMO Field.

Soccer: CONCACAF Gold Cup Soccer-Mexico at Canada

So if the money works, then we have to take a look at what role Junior could play for this team. Traditionally deployed by both the Canada Men’s national team and by Cardiff City at the left wing or left forward role, Junior would have to be utilized in a more central role or as a second striker, as the left side is already occupied by a quite competent Yeferson Soteldo.

Of these two roles, Junior may be better served playing in a central role next to Alejandro Pozuelo and Jonathan Osorio, as his passing and tackling could be utilized far better than being in a striker role, where he posted a 0.14 xG in the 2020-2021 Championship Season for Cardiff. As a passer and tackler, he posted a more impactful 76 per cent and 73 per cent success rate, respectively. Perhaps utilizing Junior in a role with Pozuelo, Soteldo, Bradley, and Osorio in a 4-5-1 would serve as the best use of his talents at this point, with Pozuelo going forward as a number 9, Bradley dropping back to help the centre defense and Osorio and Soteldo both attacking from the wings with Richie Lareya overlapping on the left, and Auro Jr. overlapping on the right. Junior would then become the connective tissue between Bradley’s defense and Pozuelo’s offense, interchanging between being alongside one of the two as the run of play dictated.

The obvious omission from this lineup is the always solid Mark Delgado, but whereas Delgado may offer more defensively, the potential upside for Junior’s offense makes it an intriguing enough proposition that one cannot dismiss it outright. Heck, maybe even my description of Junior’s potential role is too static and limited, as he may find some pockets created by Pozuelo, to even kind of serve as a second attacking midfielder from the left side, as a connector between Soteldo and Pozuelo, or Soteldo and Jozy Altidore. After seeing what Junior did in the Gold Cup, the possibilities of him adding to the Toronto FC attack are certainly mouth watering.

There is some obvious interest from the club, now the decision has to be made by Ali Curtis if their 10th highest player, who cannot crack the starting 11, is worth keeping on a TAM contract, or if it’s time to bring in another Bramptonian and give the fans another hometown hero to adore and scream for as the club makes a playoff push in the final few months of the season.

For my money...always bet on the Brampton kid. Bring Junior home.