The year of the great re-build continues at Toronto FC with the start of the summer transfer window on July 1st, 2022. With the ruthless tear-down of the 2021 team, TFC continues to hold approximately seven vacant roster spots heading into the summer window. Although many key acquisition deals were concluded in this past winter’s transfer window, there remains much work for Bill Manning and Bob Bradley to do.
An evaluation of the current state of the team, in particular its roster, reveals there remain gaps to be filled and areas where depth is lacking. With Lorenzo Insigne’s impending arrival, having been arranged during the previous transfer window, TFC will already have the best player to inject life into the offence. It must be pointed out that Insigne will surely draw in other potential acquisition targets to come to Toronto. However, team defence has been exposed to be the top priority for the upcoming summer transfer window.
For each position, I have chosen one ideal target for TFC that fills a current need, and that the club can reasonably afford to get within the league’s budgetary constraints. All target players listed are on contracts expiring by June 30th, 2022, unless noted otherwise. The positions are arranged in ascending order of priority for the club. As is clearly seen by the order of priority, defensive positions dominate the list. Furthermore, the players listed have a common denominator – experience – that TFC lacks in most of these positions.
The tactical decision Bob Bradley makes as to whether he wants to emphasize a three-man backline, as did earlier this year, or continues with the four-man backline he reverted to more recently, will influence what positions management will prioritize in reinforcing this window. Perhaps a continuing rotation utilizing both a back three and a back four is part of his vision. For our purposes, it will be assumed Bradley will continue with both backline formations for the remainder of the year.
Despite the occasional rumour, such as this week’s report out of Mexico that TFC were amongst three MLS clubs vying for Mexican goalkeeper Hugo González, not much action is expected at this time. There is little to no value in looking at goalkeepers for this window, as TFC are contractually locked into the current tandem of Alex Bono and Quentin Westberg for 2022. TFC would be wiser to expend their capped resources at other positions of real need. Barring an unexpected trade, goalkeepers will be a discussion best left for next season.
We know TFC’s front office has a considerable amount of general allocation money (GAM) and targeted allocation money (TAM) still at their disposal, but exactly how much is not exactly clear. This opaqueness is not part of some nefarious MLSE plot, but is in lock step with MLS policy to not publicly acknowledge how much TAM or GAM a team has available at any given time. What we know, as the Jesús Jiménez signing demonstrates, is that a quality acquisition does not have to be the most expensive acquisition.
It is equally important to keep in mind that TFC has filled five of its ten available international roster spots, having previously traded one to the New York Red Bulls in February of this year, heading into the transfer window. With Insigne occupying one of these spots, this still allows for TFC to sign four additional international players in the upcoming window. Judicious decision-making over their choices to fill these spots could be critical for team success the rest of this season and beyond.
Nation – Italy
Current Club - Torino FC
League – Serie A
Age - 28
Andrea Belotti’s name makes this list because he has already been bandied about for a potential move to TFC since the last transfer window. Any striker signed by TFC would have to be a significant upgrade over the other strikers already here, and Belotti’s reputation would seem to fit that bill. However, it is not certain that TFC see this as a position of need given the play of winter signing Jesús Jiménez, and the continued resurgence of Ayo Akinola since returning from injury.
If Belotti were to arrive, his salary demands would require a Designated Player position. This, in turn, would compel TFC management to get creative with restructuring the nature of another existing DP’s contract, most certainly Carlos Salcedo’s, to make this work. But conversely, the economics of this deal might make it untenable for other acquisitions at positions of greater need. Such a move would appear counter-productive and unwise given TFC’s defensive struggles.
There’s no questioning the quality Belotti would bring, or the statement of intent that his coming to TFC would represent. However, this acquisition is a long shot and would only make sense if TFC’s plan was to go all out now for championships and hardware. If TFC’s vision is to make a serious run at winning next year, then this move is not very likely to happen. Furthermore, the manner in which the team has unfolded so far this season suggests the real impetus will be to win next season.
Nation - Brazil
Current Club - UNAM Pumas
League - Liga MX
Age - 31
Rogério, is not to be confused with another Brazilian of the same name that plays left back. His full, given name is José Rogério de Oliveira. Rogério is a versatile attacking player who can play anywhere along the front line, but predominately plays on the right side or centrally.
Blessed with quickness and Brazilian flair to match, Rogério has the ability to stretch defences with his movement or crosses, and a knack for creating space for teammates. Rogério has been making his mark since the beginning of 2022 ,with seven goals and four assists in 26 games across all competitions, including the CONCACAF Champions League.
Although nearing the back end of his prime years, Rogério would provide a veteran option down the right side, and at a cap-friendly price. Given the abundance of young, promising attackers currently on TFC’s roster, right wing is down on the list of TFC’s positions in need.
Nation – Uruguay
Current Club – Dynamo Moscow
League – Russian Premier League
Age - 29
Diego Laxalt’s name has surfaced recently as a potential TFC target for left-back. There was much talk of TFC bringing in Italian veteran Dominico Criscito a few months ago. However, Criscito reportedly got cold feet and backed out of the deal. Laxalt would be a much younger and less expensive option at left-back, and it has been suggested he may be open to a move to MLS.
Although Laxalt is under contract until the end of June 2024, given the circumstances involving Russia since their invasion of Ukraine, it is believed FIFA would permit players at Russian clubs to terminate their contracts and allow for a deal to be made without a transfer fee.
The upside for TFC signing the Uruguay international is that he provides a veteran presence to a position where a veteran presence is lacking. Although Luca Petrasso’s inexperience has been exposed at times, there does appear to be incremental improvement to his game, rendering the signing of a left back further down the list of TFC’s priorities.
Nation – Ukraine
Current Club - Zorya Luhansk
League – Ukrainian Premier League
Age - 31
Denys Favorov is a name that is certain to be flying below most TFC fans’ radar. However, Favorov is well regarded in Ukraine, and for good reasons. Favorov was named to the Ukrainian Premier League’s team of the year for 2019-2020. In 2020-2021, he played in the UEFA Europa League, and this past season, in the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League.
Surprisingly, the 2020 Ukrainian Player of the Year has never been called up to the Ukrainian national team. The popular ex-captain of previous club Desna Chernihiv raised funds in recent months for the defenders of the club’s city against the Russian invasion.
Favorov is a versatile player who can also provide cover at centre-back and defensive midfield. In a theme now becoming familiar, Favorov provides a steadying, veteran option in a position of need, at a price TFC will find cap-friendly.
Right-back is a position where TFC most notably needs improvement, as the revolving door of young prospects, such as Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Kadin Chung, and Kosi Thompson, have struggled with consistency and injuries. An experienced right-back such as Favorov would better the team and relieve any pressure on the aforementioned prospects.
Central Defensive Midfield
Nation – Argentina
Current Club - Newell’s Old Boys
League - Argentine Primera División
Age - 27
A perennial starter in the middle of the park, Fernández has no fear of getting stuck in, as his seven yellow cards (but no reds) in 14 league matches attest. He plays as an out and out destroyer, sitting in front of the backline while providing protection and support. He would not be expected to contribute very much to the offence, although he has shown instances of clinical finishing inside the opposition’s half.
Prior to joining Newell’s Old Boys, Fernández had a two-year stint in the Chilean First Division with Club Deportivo Palestino. Prior to that, Fernández began his professional career with Argentine club All Boys, where he was selected to be club captain at just 20 years of age.
TFC currently lacks an experienced defensive midfielder with Fernández’s skillset. Ralph Priso, and to a lesser degree, Noble Okello were being groomed to assume a traditional “6” role, but have struggled with the assignment so far this season. Michael Bradley turns 35 this calendar year and should no longer be relied upon to play 90 minutes in each game. If TFC were to acquire a Fernández-like player, it could go a long way to help solve many of the club’s defensive problems.
Nation – Argentina
Current Club – Estudiantes
League - Argentine Primera Division
Age - 29
If this name is vaguely familiar to you, it is because Fabián Noguera was previously identified as a prime target for TFC heading into the previous transfer window this past winter. Noguera is right footer that is comfortable playing on either side of a centre defence pairing, or playing in the middle of a back three, a set up his current club has used quite often during his time with Estudiantes. Reports have also spoken highly of his leadership qualities, as he has worn the armband on occasion for his club.
Noguera has experience in the Brazilian top flight with well-known club Santos, and in the Spanish Second Division with clubs Gimnastic de Tarragona and SD Ponferradina. Noguera has been a mainstay with Argentine club Estudiantes since signing in February 2021. Since then, he has started over 59 games, playing all but six minutes in those matches. Such durability for TFC would verge on legendary.
His contributions in 2021, including five goals scored on set pieces, helped Estudiantes return to the Copa Libertadores in 2022. In Primera League play, Estudiantes finished the first half of the 2022 season top of the table. In all 2022 competitive games, Estudiantes has a record of one win, one draw and three losses without their occasional team captain in the lineup. With Nogurera present, his club’s success improves dramatically to 15 wins, two draws and three losses, with one of those losses being a penalty shootout.
Noguera would be a fiscally responsible, yet significant, addition to the TFC backline, regardless as to whether Bob Bradley favours a back three or back four for the remainder of the year. With Mavinga on the road to recovery, O’Neil sidelined by concussion protocols, and McNaughton having just made the jump to MLS, acquiring an iron man with Noguera’s attributes and skill set would be most welcomed in Toronto. Press reports out of Argentina have indicated that it is unlikely Noguera will re-sign with Estudiantes this summer, and that he is looking for a new challenge. Hopefully Toronto can be that challenge.
Belotti notwithstanding, none of the players mentioned are household names. Yet, all have qualities that would contribute to improving TFC’s on-field product. TFC is unlikely to get all the player targets they may want. The salary cap restraints will generally not allow for that. But, any combination of players, such as those listed here, are certainly financially feasible, and, from the supporter’s perspective, desirable.
In what many might consider a surprise, TFC are only three points behind Inter Miami in seventh place. In order reach the post-season, TFC needs to reinforce its roster depth with some quality veterans, and improve on their defensive performances since the start of the year. If management plays its hand correctly, they might just pick up a few more pieces to complete the puzzle, and make a deep run in this year’s playoffs.