TFC Rebuild Status - An Update

With the start of the 2022 MLS season, now is a good time to take another look at the TFC rebuild process. I previously wrote a fanpost here describing the state of the rebuild as of about 2 weeks ago; since then, the 2022 MLS Roster Rules have been published and the MLS roster compliance deadline has passed, so we should have a better idea of where things stand. The new rules have a big impact actually, so read on to find out how.

If you're looking for a detailed breakdown of all of the MLS roster rules, my original fanpost covers pretty much all of them in some detail; new rules will be covered here. MLS roster rules can be pretty dense and difficult to understand. As just a fan, I do my best to parse through them, but it's possible that I got some things wrong or missed something. I mostly wrote these fanposts as a means to explain the rules to myself, to get some visibility into the roster rebuild process and the front office operations, but I hope the 3 or 4 people that actually read these posts get something out of it as well.

Before getting into the changes outright, here is a reminder of how the TFC rebuild has gone so far:

Rule Change 1 -€” International Roster Slots

My original breakdown stated that the lack of International Roster Slots was the biggest impediment to the TFC rebuild process. That has now changed in a major way: Canadian MLS teams have three additional international roster slots added to the existing eight. Note, MLS doesn't actually call these new slots international slots, but that's what they are in effect. These new slots can only be occupied by an international that has been at one or more Canadian MLS clubs for at least one year, so they're not quite as good as the regular slots, but they're still quite valuable.

The rule change was introduced to level the playing field between Canadian and US-based MLS clubs, as US teams have a much easier time converting internationals to domestic status by getting their players Green Cards (i.e., permanent resident status). Some fans on twitter were hoping for a more permissive rule for Canadian clubs, but I think this rule probably strikes a better balance. There is still a discussion to be had about the international roster rules in general, and whether they still serve a purpose for the league, but this is the rule we have for now.

With the international roster slot rule change, here is where Toronto FC stand:

Achara, Mavinga, and Pozuelo are eligible for the three new international roster slots. If we assume that the Criscito deal is in fact happening (and by all accounts it seems to be), then that leaves Toronto with three unfilled slots. Rumoured signing such as Mattia Destro, and the much less likely Andrea Belotti and Dries Mertens, are now very much still possible from a roster rules perspective. In addition, the much hoped-for summer return of Sebastian Giovinco is still possible, though I don't know how likely that is at a roster-fit level.

As a final note, domestic player status is now determined by the roster compliance date (i.e., Feb 25th), rather than the opening of the secondary transfer window in the summer, so that's another change clubs' front offices need to keep in mind.

Rule Change 2 -€” Allocation Process Eligibility

Next, we have a rule change that's not actually a rule change, but rather a clarification. According to the 2022 MLS roster rules, players eligible for free agency will not be added to the Allocation List and subject to the Allocation Process. Presumably, the allocation process rules were the same in 2021, as this is framed as just a clarification. This is actually useful information, as up to this point, I didn't know which of free agency or allocation process took precedence; we now know that free agency takes precedence.

The allocation process is one of the mechanisms by which some players must enter or re-enter the league. It is actually quite an annoying process from a roster building prospective, as teams that are not at the top of the allocation priority cannot sign a player on the allocation list, unless they trade for that allocation order position. The allocation process concerns two different current rumours: (1) the hoped-for summer return of Sebastian Giovinco, and (2) the recently rumoured idea (from OneSoccer's Andi Petrillo) that Richie Laryea might want to return to Toronto for a half-season loan spell. Without fully delving into whether either of theses rumours makes sense, I'll note that this rule clarification doesn't affect Seba, he would still need to come in as an allocation list signee, but might impact Laryea, whose eligibility for free agency is less clear.

I won't fully describe the allocation process here, except to say that players who were transferred outside the league for a fee greater than $500,000 must generally return through the allocation process. Here's where the rule clarification comes into play, as free agency eligible players who had such a transfer can skip the allocation process. While in most sports leagues, free agency is the default status for all out-of-contract players, in MLS, players must qualify for free agency. According to the MLS Free Agency Rules, players who are 24 years old or older and who have five years or more of MLS service are eligible for MLS free agency.

Giovinco is of course older than 24, but he was only in MLS for 4 years, so he is not eligible for free agency. In fact, Giovinco is included on the MLS Allocation List. For Richie Laryea, things are more complicated. Richie is 27, so he's certainly okay age-wise. He was under-contract with MLS for six total years (three with Orlando and three with Toronto), so presumably that gives him the required MLS service. However, one and half of his years with Orlando were served on loan to Orlando City B, so he only spent 4.5 years on an MLS roster proper. It all comes down to the definition of MLS service: is it number of years under MLS contract, or is it number of years on an MLS roster? If the former, Richie is free agency eligible, and if the latter, he is not.

For what it's worth, Laryea is not listed on the MLS Allocation List as it stands right now, but neither are recent transfers Ricardo Pepi and Daryl Dike, both of whom are too young for free agency eligibility. It's possible that this list isn't updated frequently enough, but trades are already reflected in the allocation priority order on that same webpage, so that's not a convincing explanation. MLS might not update the list with recent transfers for whatever reason, which would be annoying, but I guess we just have to settle for uncertainty. I'm not sure such a loan makes sense, from Toronto or Nottingham's side of things, but at least we're also unclear on the mechanisms of such a loan, so it's confusion all around.

Other Rule Changes

There aren't any other rule changes that affect the Toronto rebuild this year, but I'll cover them here briefly anyway for completeness. First, the rules for Supplemental Roster Slots 25-28 have changed to allow Generation Adidas players to occupy these slots, provided they are making the Reserve Minimum salary. Toronto doesn't have any current generation Adidas players on their roster; Alex Bono was a generation Adidas player, but he graduated from his generation Adidas contract a while back.

And finally, there is a new rule that governs trades of DP or U22 players. It seems to imply that the team moving their DP or U22 can opt to remain responsible for some of the player's salary while freeing up the DP or U22 slot. But then again, this rule is particularly dense and confusing in the way that it's written, so I'm not 100% sure I'm interpreting it correctly. Here's the rule for your own speculation:

Where the Roster Stands -€” Supplemental

In addition to the release of the roster rules for 2022, this past week also saw the roster compliance deadline. We can now look at the TFC roster and get a better sense of where the rebuild stands and also where things might need to improve. We'll start with the Supplemental Roster:

The supplemental roster as listed on the TFC roster webpage is clearly not roster compliant. There are three slot 29-30 players (excluding the recent loanee Luke Singh) and seven slot 25-28 players. However, there is a re-categorization of those 10 players that is compliant, so my theory is that the website simply isn't updated correctly. Jordan Perruzza and Kosi Thompson should occupy slots 29-30; Kadin Chung, Deandre Kerr, Luca Petrasso and Ralph Priso should occupy slots 25-28; and Jacob Shaffelburg, Jahkelle Marshall-Rutty, Noble Okello, and Jayden Nelson should occupy slots 21-24.

Outside of that, there isn't much else to analyze from the supplemental roster. We can note that with four players making above the senior minimum, Toronto has been able to pack a decent amount of value onto the salary-cap exempt supplemental roster. Also, Achara's move to the senior roster comes with a decently sized pay raise, from $66k last year to the senior minimum $84k this year, which may indicate an increased level of dedication from the organization for the young forward. Finally, in my previous fanpost I noted that while Akinola was listed in the slots 21-24 category, he probably wasn't eligible for that designation, though I wasn't sure given his U22 status; with Akinola moving to the senior roster, it seems my initial instinct was right with Akinola.

Where the Roster Stands -€” Senior

The main consideration in analyzing the senior roster, outside of the quality of the players themselves, is their impact on the salary cap and the allocation money needed to pay salary cap excesses. Estimating player salaries is a difficult business, and one that I can't say I have any particular skill in. I make use of the MLS Players Salary Guide, media rumours and reports (adjusting from net salary to gross), the financial disclosures of teams in other leagues if available, and Transfermarkt, although sparingly since exact comps are hard to find. In any case, I leave the salary ranges wide to indicate my lack of confidence in any of the guessed values (except for returning MLS players).

Luke Singh, though out on loan, may still impact the salary cap; Singh is headed to CPL side FC Edmonton, but it’s not clear if the loan is a free loan or if Edmonton will pay a fee and/or some of Singh’s salary. The MLS rules allow for salary budget relief for one free loan to a lower-division club in the US or Canada, but I'm not sure if technically speaking the CPL counts as a lower division, since it is formally a division I sanctioned league of the Canadian Soccer Association. Thus, anything in the range of none to all is possible for Singh's cap hit this season.

Also, I've included Kemar Lawrence since Toronto is still technically responsible for his salary and contract at the moment; it is still possible Toronto moves him before any of that becomes due, which would leave Toronto with no cap hit. If, for the sake of discussion, Toronto is responsible for half of his salary this year, that would be a little over $170,000 based on the 2021 number. The table above only includes $86,000 as the worst-case estimate for Lawrence's cap hit, as the rest will come from one of the $84,000 amounts currently assigned to slots 16-18.

We have a final estimate for amounts of GAM/TAM that will need to be used on the current roster in the $2.65M to $4.55M range, a pretty wide range showing the limitations of estimating salaries from outside the organization. However, that upper end of the range assumes Salcedo is bought down to bring in another DP, so the upper end is really nearer to $4.1M if that's not the case. In my original fanpost, I estimated that Toronto has access to about $6.7M in combined GAM and TAM amounts this year, but it's probably prudent to bring some of that forward to next year, so let's call it $5.5M. That leaves somewhere in the range of $1.4M to $2.85M left to spend, at least according to my amateur estimates/analysis.

Where the Roster Stands -€” Position Analysis

Finally, in my previous fanpost, I had an analysis of where Toronto has lost/gained players on the roster in terms of positions on the field. I present those tables here again, with the three new/expected players included: Kadin Chung, Kosi Thompson, and Domenico Criscito.

Based on the additions made, and my assessment of the roster needs in my previous post, an updated list of needs is as follows: I think Toronto needs to add 0-1 centre-backs, 0-1 full-backs, 0-1 midfielders, and 0-1 wingers. The right wing forward position is a place I could see a starter added, though I’d be okay with Achara and Kerr splitting time there too. Depth should probably be the focus otherwise, although I wouldn’t object to adding more viable starters at right back or striker. So, in summary, the team is in a manageable season-ready shape, but should probably look to add some players for depth, if not for more significant roles.