It is not surprising, with its three highly paid designated players, that Toronto FC’s payroll leads the league. Thankfully, the situation below the DP line has been managed to few suggestions that TFC is under a cap crunch.
With Toronto aiming to compete for the MLS Cup every year, though, every dollar spent against the cap counts. With that in mind, there are a few contracts that may need another look this offseason.
This article may be seen as overly critical: after all, TFC has the deepest squad in MLS and is on its way to a record-breaking season.
However, management must continuously strive for a better team and part of that involves identifying where cap savings may be found which can then be reinvested elsewhere. General manager Tim Bezbatchenko admitted this in a recent interview, stating that the salary cap in MLS punishes successful teams and that creativity is required in order to sustain success.
Considering TFC’s roster and each player’s performance this season, below are my top five areas of concern going forward, in order of least concerning to most concerning.
5. Tosaint Ricketts
(Guaranteed 2017 salary: $193,167)
Identifying Ricketts’ salary as a concern may be controversial for many TFC fans. He has scored some key goals in the past two years and has looked decent in recent games, but at other times has failed to make a positive impact.
I’ve included his contract as an issue for two reasons. First, he is paid almost $200,000 to be a third-choice striker. Second, he is blocking Jordan Hamilton, a younger, cheaper, and (arguably) better player from key first-team minutes.
Comparing his salary to the rest of TFC’s players, Ricketts makes significantly more than key contributors Eriq Zavaleta, Nick Hagglund and Alex Bono. But his performance lags far behind most first-team players.
Last season, he had a WhoScored rating of 6.64 overall and even when starting managed only a 6.53 WhoScored rating. This year his overall performance has improved slightly (6.77 WhoScored rating) mainly because of significantly improved performance in games started (7.36 WhoScored rating in nine starts). I’m not convinced that his performance in those starts reflects his true ability, as I believe he has overperformed and has been a bit lucky. His shot conversion rate of 23% this year compared to 15% last year suggests it might be hard to sustain his goalscoring going forward.
If he wasn’t keeping Hamilton from getting minutes and continuing to develop, Ricketts’ salary might not be as significant of a concern. But I’d argue that Hamilton should be playing ahead of Ricketts for several reasons. First, Hamilton is 21 while Ricketts is 30. Hamilton has a much higher ceiling and needs to receive MLS minutes in order to reach it.
Second, Hamilton’s salary is less than half of Ricketts’ salary at $81,958. Third, over the past two years their performance is extremely similar. Hamilton had a higher WhoScored rating in 2016 (6.66) but a lower rating in 2017 (6.52, mainly because he has not started a game this season). Even with a lower WhoScored rating, Hamilton has two goals and one assist in 143 minutes this season as a substitute.
Those stats combined with Hamilton’s 5 goals in eight starts for TFC II (one of the USL’s worst teams) pushes me towards thinking that TFC could save money and improve performance (potentially in the short term, but definitely over the mid-to-long term) by replacing Ricketts with Hamilton.
4. Ashtone Morgan
(Guaranteed 2017 salary: $101,508)
In the few opportunities that Ashtone Morgan has received during the past two years, he has failed to earn additional minutes with a WhoScored rating of only 6.36 in 2017 and 6.10 in 2016. With just 12 appearances and three starts in the past two seasons, at this point Morgan is a fringe player for TFC. Raheem Edwards is better suited to Toronto’s 5-3-2 system as a more attack-minded wing-back.
Morgan’s $100,000 salary does not count against the cap because he is on the supplemental roster, but he takes up one of only four valuable spots of that designation. They can be used to promote homegrown players that provide useful depth or for cheap pick-ups such as Nicolas Hasler.
After his salary decreased approximately $30,000 last year, it is unlikely that Morgan will be thrilled about another significant salary decrease. Therefore, it might be time for Toronto to part ways with one of its first academy graduates.
3. Steven Beitashour
(Guaranteed 2017 salary: $264,000)
It’s been a slightly unfortunate year for Beitashour, with a serious injury and the impressive play of newcomer Hasler. He can’t be blamed for getting injured, but it is evident that Beitashour is now firmly a player in decline as he enters his 30s.
His WhoScored rating has declined in two consecutive years, from 6.98 in 2015 to 6.79 in 2016 and 6.61 in 2017. Age and injuries might be catching up to him, as well as the rigorous demands of playing wing-back in TFC’s system.
A healthy 2018 season could see him improve his play over what has been an inconsistent year, but overall I think Beitashour is more suited to the traditional full-back role rather than a wing-back in a 5-3-2. With no signs that Vanney is looking to change his system any time soon, I’d expect Beitashour to lose playing time over the next year to Hasler.
That’s an issue, as Beitashour is making $264,000 - about $20,000 more than in 2016. With his salary increasing and his play decreasing, it could leave Toronto in a bad spot if he declines further next year.
If Hasler continues to excel in the wing-back role (WhoScored rating of 7.11 in nine appearances), several options become available to TFC.
First, since Beitashour’s contract is expiring at the end of this season, they could not bring him back. This might annoy some fans, as Beitashour’s arrival in 2016 helped shore up an extremely leaky defence. But it would save a lot of salary cap space for further additions.
Second, they could ask him to take a salary cut and come back as a backup. This is my preferred option, as he would be a solid backup and TFC will need depth for the CONCACAF Champions League.
Finally, he could also be brought back as a starter if Hasler hasn’t earned the starting spot. If he does return to TFC next year, they cannot afford for him to receive another salary increase and realistically need him to take less money in order to better reflect his performances on the field.
2. Armando Cooper / Jonathan Osorio
(Guaranteed 2017 salary: $202,333 / $200,237)
Both Armando Cooper and Jonathan Osorio have disappointed this season. Cooper has failed to replicate his excellent play of last season, turning over the ball in key situations while not adding the dynamism off the ball that helped propel Toronto to the MLS Cup final. His tackles, interceptions, shots, and successful dribbles per 90 minutes have all decreased. Overall, his WhoScored rating has steeply declined from 7.36 to 6.61.
Until the last few games, Osorio had a similar season with few opportunities to start for TFC and a career low WhoScored rating of 6.46. Even when looking at just games started, his WhoScored rating of 6.66 shows his inability to make the impact that the coaching staff and fans have looked for. Although he has potentially turned the corner with improved play of late, overall the season has arguably been his worst as a professional.
The issue with both Cooper and Osorio is not that I think they are incapable of improving their play next season, but rather that with TFC entering the Champions League our depth will be tested. We will need dependable and more consistent play from our backup midfielders in order to occasionally rest Michael Bradley and Victor Vazquez. Both Cooper and Osorio appear to be under contract beyond this season, and if their play doesn’t improve that could leave TFC with two players earning $200,000 each and not contributing enough as backups.
TFC should assess if they can replace one or both of these players with cheaper (and hopefully younger) talent that’s either currently with TFC or from around the league. I’d lean towards keeping Osorio over Cooper, as he is younger (25 vs. 29), can operate in more positions and is not taking up a valuable international slot.
I’d love to see TFC promote Liam Fraser and give him Cooper’s minutes next season, freeing up $200,000 to spend on a new senior roster player or to give others pay rises.
1. Clint Irwin
(Guaranteed 2017 salary: $211,317)
The concern with Irwin’s salary is that he is making starting goalkeeper money while serving as Alex Bono’s backup. In fact, Irwin is in the upper echelon of goalkeepers with the 10th highest guaranteed compensation for 2017.
But with goalkeepers, things are never that simple. According to WhoScored, Irwin has actually outperformed Bono during 2017, with a 6.81 rating compared to 6.65 for Bono. However, the sample size for Irwin this season is small (six games) and shouldn’t be given too much weight.
The good news is that together they make under $300,000, but with Bono’s emergence as the starting keeper - and his impending removal from Generation Adidas status - it won’t be long before he is making upwards of $100,000, if not close to $200,000. So that total could quickly rise to $400,000. Therefore, it might be best for TFC to trade Irwin either after this year or next year and use a cheaper option as the backup keeper.
The cap savings could amount to up to $150,000 if the keeper who is brought in makes the senior minimum salary or is on a reserve contract. Even if TFC hopes to keep Irwin around for another year, he may ask to leave in search of first-team football in the prime of his career.
So, those are my top salary concerns for TFC for the next season. Who would you include (or not include) as a concern?
It seems likely that only one or two of these players will still be with TFC after next season. My guess would be Osorio, but if a compelling offer comes in for him it might be difficult for TFC to say no. Saying that, I’d like to keep the Canadian international at home in Toronto for the foreseeable future and focus on continuing to develop his all-around game.