Tim Bezbatchenko and Greg Vanney don’t need my seal of approval. Their MLS record over the past three years (regular season and playoffs) is unmatched. They have repeatedly combed through the ranks of global football to amass talent with the stealth and precision of a top secret agent. Last year, they assembled the best team in the history of the league.
In fact, all of the above should be enough to canonize them, and pronounce both to be infallible. Yet, I find myself questioning my faith. From a roster-building standpoint, I cannot come to terms with what I see as a relatively poor off-season for Toronto FC.
In my less than humble opinion, Toronto FC’s current depth is worse than last year’s; Bez and Vanney have created problems where there were no problems, and have yet to address Toronto’s key need post-December 9, 2017.
Before you burn me at the stake for heresy, please allow me to explain.
Creating Problems Where There Were No Problems
This was a mistake of epic proportions. Exposing Edwards in the expansion draft ensured his imminent exit (I am trying to use alliteration as a rhetorical device to win you over). Now the Reds are a mere Justin Morrow hamstring injury away from being totally exposed down the left side. Raheem not only offered depth for 2018, but he had the definite potential to be the left wingback/left midfielder of the future. Now, Toronto must find a way to plug a completely unnecessary hole.
How could this have been avoided? Answer: by choosing wisely. I submit that the Reds could have exposed Jonathan Osorio or Eric Zavaleta instead of Edwards. I doubt that either would have fit into Los Angeles FC’s, or the Montreal Impact’s, plans. Even if either player was selected, Toronto is deep enough at those positions that their presence would not have been missed as much as Edwards’.
I am not saying that I wanted to see either player leave. I like them both, and I am rooting for their continued development and success. But, a tough decision had to be made and, in this case, Bezbatchenko and Vanney made the wrong choice.
It is hard to talk Beita without talking van der Wiel. However, the two need to be separated. The signing of Gregory van der Wiel is exciting and very promising. He is a welcome addition, and I am glad to have him on the team. That is not in question. But, what is in question is whether he was actually needed. That’s where the Beitashour discussion begins.
Did TFC really need an upgrade at right back/right wingback? What did Beitashour do (or not do) that was so egregious that he needed to be replaced? Recent talk by Bez and Vanney is that they were always looking to upgrade that side of the field. These comments have left me pleading for enlightenment. I want to believe them. I want to understand their greater rationale. But I just can’t.
With Beitashour and Hasler, I thought that the right side was fine. There was no need to blow significant TAM to “upgrade” this part of the team, especially since Toronto has real needs that should have been prioritized over replacing Beitashour.
Finally, the way that Beitashour left has also given me pause. Immediately after the parade ended, TFC ensured that Drew Moor was signed and sealed for 2018/2019. Yet, they allowed Beita’s contract situation to languish. Eventually, he was approached with the proposal of a significant pay cut.
By Beita’s own words, he was the only player asked to take a pay cut to stay with the team. Why? Why only him? His contributions over the past two seasons were very important to the team’s successes. At the very least, his compensation should have remained static. That would have been fine by him, and we all could have focused on strengthening the roster elsewhere.
The Problems that Remain
To my tiny brain, this was (and still is) the biggest problem facing the Reds. Replacing Benoit Cheyrou is something that we all knew had to be done. We knew this since the end of the 2016 campaign, and we also knew the timing: he told us that 2017 would probably be his final year as a professional footballer. Yet, with only a handful of days left before we start 2018 for real, this hole remains unfilled.
Prior to his injury, Cheyrou played a tremendous role for TFC in 2016 and 2017. Sure, he contributed offensively. But, as we all know, his true worth was realized as the go-to guy when Michael Bradley was unavailable. His abilities as a defensive midfielder were more than sufficient to allow the team to continue their winning ways in the captain’s absence. He moved the ball well, and covered missed assignments with aplomb and savvy.
Admittedly, replacing such a versatile player is not easy. Nevertheless, it needs to be done and, as mentioned, Bezbatchenko and the coach have known about this for over a year. In Toronto’s scheme, this role is paramount to the transition game. It must have a defined Plan B.
Liam Fraser is not the answer for 2018. He is currently a squire and, while he may turn out to be a true knight, that probably won’t come over the next twelve months.
The lack of depth at this position means that the Reds are a Bradley ankle injury away from kissing several trophies goodbye. The natural comeback to this is that all teams face a similar situation; if one of their best players is injured then they, too, may have to deal with the reality of a lost season. But, we are not talking about “all teams.” We are talking about this team, a team that wants to be better than the best team in MLS history. That can’t be accomplished without a replacement for Cheyrou.
Victor Vazquez – VV is not a problem. He is anything but a problem. The problem is the lack of a proven, qualified, attacking midfielder to spell him on occasion. Right now, he is the only player who can fill the No. 10 role with any level of consistent proficiency. Jay Chapman or Nicolas Hasler might be able to serve as understudies. But, the key word is “might.”
The jury is still out on Chappers, and that jury includes Bez and Vanney. Hasler’s home is the right side. On the international stage, his forays into central midfield have been much less effective. Then again, his national side is Liechtenstein. So, perhaps there may be a possible fit in the middle of the pitch with Toronto, given that the Reds offer a stronger supporting cast. But, can the best team in MLS history afford to take on these development projects?
As good as TFC was last year, there was always the need for another consistent CAM. Such an individual was (is) needed to give Toronto added, reliable flexibility, be it altering formations or enhancing a late game attack. Against top-level Mexican and Central American opposition, this requirement is especially prudent.
Again, we have known about this need for a while. Yet it still remains on our list.
Last season proved that a championship team can’t have enough depth at defence. Whether it be Jason Hernandez, or a similar player, Toronto still needs to plug this relatively inexpensive hole. Given the current roster of defenders, perhaps this could have been the one spot where Bez and the coach brought along a prospect and allowed him to apprentice under the likes of Drew Moor and Nick Hagglund without adversely impacting the team’s success.
But, in another curious move, the Reds jettisoned their first round draft pick from a year ago, Brandon Aubrey. Apparently, a single season on one of the USL’s worst teams was enough to convince the founders of our faith that they had made a mistake by selecting the Notre Dame centre-back with the 21st overall pick.
I know that the off-season is not over, so there is still hope that Bezbatchenko and Vanney will address the remaining holes. Perhaps theirs is a greater good that I just don’t understand. I still believe in them. I will still worship at BMO Cathedral and satisfy my alms-giving obligation through the purchase of merchandise and memorabilia. However, given the past two months, my faith has definitely been shaken (if not stirred).