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Mailbag: Could Nick Hagglund take Eriq Zavaleta’s spot?

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We’re back to answer more questions. Buckle up for a drive down memory lane.

MLS: Toronto FC at Montreal Impact Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Just like Toronto FC, the WTR mailbag took last week off. We’re back, though, to answer your TFC-related enquiries.

In future, feel free to send in any questions you want to see answered to us on Twitter (@wakingthered), Facebook, or via email (wakingthered@gmail.com). I’ll be taking it on today, and a new WTR writer will probably be in the seat next week.

It was a rough week for TFC, but some uncharacteristically optimistic fans actually don’t seem to think the sky is falling.

I want to start by saying I’m one of Eriq Zavaleta’s biggest fans. He’s played an insane amount of minutes this year (2,192, behind only Michael Bradley, Alex Bono, and Justin Morrow), but nobody ever seems to notice him. For most of the year he’s been a mainstay in TFC’s back three.

That said, the Montreal game was one heck of a bad day at the office for him. I’m not really sure what happened - frankly, it just seemed like one of those nights for the whole team. A bad mistake or two early on kind of set the tone for the rest of his outing, and might’ve stripped his confidence matching up with Ignacio Piatti.

I’ve seen some people suggest that he may have been a little distracted with a toothache, since he had dental surgery a few days after and thus missed the trip to New England. While that may well have been a factor, I don’t want to entirely attribute it to that, especially since we don’t know what kind of surgery it was (planned or emergency?).

What strikes me most is that Zavaleta is only 25, and he’s now in his third season with TFC. The fact that there are very few games like this we can point to is encouraging. Nonetheless, he’s definitely going to be the one fighting with Nick Hagglund for that last spot in the lineup.

In a similar vein:

WTR writer Tej Sahota asks: “How soon does Nick Hagglund get a start?”

Ideally, as soon as he’s ready; we’re running out of time before the playoffs. He’s apparently close to returning, but I’m not sure he’ll be thrown into this weekend’s NYRB game. Next Saturday against Montreal would be my guess.

Lawrence asks: “Is it too early to talk about the 2018 Expansion Draft? Do we have another Mark Bloom?!”

As great as it is for MLS to be expanding so rapidly, yearly expansion drafts are a little annoying. Last year, Tim Bezbatchenko pulled off a clever move that plucked Clint Irwin back from Atlanta United in exchange for Mark Bloom and allocation money.

This year, TFC will have some tough choices to make again. Five players (Alex Bono, Jordan Hamilton, Ben Spencer, Ashtone Morgan, Jay Chapman, Sergio Camargo) are exempt due to homegrown or Generation Adidas status. The Reds can then protect another 11, if the rules are the same as last year.

It’s not worth protecting Irwin; he’s no longer the number one keeper as he was last year. My protected list:

Giovinco, Altidore, Bradley, Vazquez, Morrow, Mavinga, Moor, Zavaleta, Delgado, Hasler, Edwards.

The reason I left Steven Beitashour off is that he’s a free agent after this season, and Nicolas Hasler is not. Beitashour could get claimed, but even then he could probably be bought back. As for Nick Hagglund, I think his tough year injury-wise could be a turn-off for LAFC.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Someone like Armando Cooper or Irwin could (if not taken outright) be used as TFC’s bargaining chip in getting back someone they lost.

Next up, a couple of Canadian Premier League questions:

From Sandra: “Have they actually announced a CPL team for Saskatoon and I missed it? Last I heard they said there'd be one team for Saskatchewan for now, and undecided if Regina or Saskatoon.”

From John: “What are you guys hearing about Calgary and Edmonton as part of the CPL?”

First off, they haven’t really announced a CPL team anywhere except Hamilton and Winnipeg. Since, at this point, we’re probably looking at just six teams to launch the league, I don’t think Saskatoon would be one of the founding cities. Regina seems the more likely option (although Mosaic Stadium might be a little big). That said, there is certainly interest from some parties in bringing a team to Saskatoon.

As for Alberta, I see a similar situation. It’s definitely possible there are two teams in the future, but to start with I think it’ll just be one. FC Edmonton seems almost a lock to join the CPL down the road, although I’m not sure when exactly that would be - possibly not from the league’s outset. If that’s the case, a new incarnation of Calgary Foothills FC could be the best candidate.

Nonetheless, FC Edmonton would probably be an ideal option for the CPL, with facilities and a fanbase already in place.

There are definitely more interested cities than available places in the early years of the league. If I had to guess? Hamilton, Winnipeg, Halifax, Regina, and Edmonton could kick things off, plus potentially Moncton or a GTA-based team like Mississauga.

Roberto asks: “Seba??????”

Ah, the question on everyone’s mind. I don’t think there’s any reason to fear; Greg Vanney seems to be taking a hardline precautionary stance on his best player’s health. The last thing Giovinco wants is to leave the two most important games of the season with cramps or quad injuries, as he did last fall.

I’d say he’ll be back for the Montreal game to shake the rust off. As for the game after, in Atlanta, I’m not so sure - I’d never bet on him playing on turf, but with form so vital heading into the playoffs, it’s not out of the realm of possibility (plus, there’s a chance TFC have to head to Atlanta again this year).

Finally, Alan asks: “Here's a niche question for you guys - what was the verdict on Ryan Nelsen's time as head coach of TFC?”

Oh, that’s an interesting one. Off we go down Toronto FC’s memory lane - a short, dimly-lit lane at that, with more coaches than playoff games.

Nelsen came in at a very weird time for TFC, taking over from Paul Mariner after the worst season in the team’s six-year history. Some people were taken aback by the move, with a lot of fans thinking Mariner should’ve been given a full season with a team that was probably better than it showed in 2012 (they could never recover from the nine-game losing streak to start the season).

Toronto FC Media Day Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Although TFC were never very good under Nelsen, his impact on the current team is not insignificant. He was part of the envoy that met with Jermain Defoe in London in late 2013; his exact role in that is uncertain but he was a former teammate of Defoe’s with Tottenham, so he probably had a hand in convincing him.

Nelsen was thus part of the management group that brought in both Defoe and Michael Bradley, which in my opinion was the birth of this new era of TFC. Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, Jordan Hamilton and Justin Morrow are all current players who joined the fold in Nelsen’s tenure.

Although fans love to look back on the Defoe season derisively, it definitely set a precedent that led to both Jozy Altidore (directly) and Sebastian Giovinco (indirectly) coming to Toronto the next year. Obviously a lot of that is due to Bezbatchenko and Tim Leiweke’s handiwork, but Nelsen’s contribution shouldn’t be ignored.

The irrational, deluded part of my brain, though, has other things to say about Nelsen: he pushed Stefan Frei out of the lineup, which led to his trade to Seattle, which led to that save on Altidore. So, let’s pin that one on him.