The winds of change are blowing around BMO Field. After winning just four times through the first half of the season, Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko seems ready to give the team a shake up it desperately needs.
In an interview with Sportsnet’s Jeff Blair (which is certainly worth a listen for multiple reasons), the architect of Toronto FC’s historic season said he is ready to go back to the drawing board ahead of the July 10 opening of the summer transfer window.
“We are going to be making some changes,” Bezbatchenko told Blair, “we have to, we have to look at all avenues to inject some energy into this team, some fresh faces. Make sure that the guys know that they’ve got to fight for their positions.”
He made it very clear that those changes did not include the coaching staff, but he’d be looking to shake things up on his roster. He still has some salary cap and roster considerations to make in order to make space for a possible move but seemed confident he could make that happen.
The process is already underway with the release of Ben Spencer and Mariano Mino, the latter of which opened up an international roster slot that Toronto could potentially use during this window. But it would appear that TFC need to make a lot more moves if they want to create substantial space to bring in anyone of impact.
Earlier in the season, TFC Report’s Oliver Platt took a look at Toronto FC’s salary cap situation with the information we have available. That info isn’t enough to get a perfect picture, but gives us a reasonable idea of how much space Toronto might have.
The conclusion? Not very much. Perhaps enough to add a player in the neighbourhood of $100,000 salary on a prorated contract. Only Alex Bono, Jay Chapman, Jordan Hamilton and Jason Hernandez make in that neighbourhood on the current Toronto roster.
So if Toronto wants to add a player they are going to need to create some space by moving on from some current members of the team. The most obvious area where Toronto could quickly shed some cap space would be Ager Aketxe’s $1.5 million, considering he still hasn’t settled into the team.
Aketxe was Toronto’s biggest offseason signing monetarily but still hasn’t found his footing in MLS. Bezbatchenko has shown a willingness to part ways with signings who haven’t worked out in the past, with Ahmed Kantari moving out the window after he was signed.
That’s one option, but there are others. Even if Toronto can create substantial space, however, don’t expect anything big. Something in the realm of the cheap but impactful summer additions of Armando Cooper, Tosaint Ricketts, or Nico Hasler.
The club already has a proven core, and the issue this season has been that they haven’t played together enough. Toronto’s main core players — Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, Victor Vazquez, Justin Morrow, and Drew Moor — have not all played together in a single MLS match this season.
There’s also no need to bring in a bandaid solution that ruins the club’s long-term outlook. Bezbatchenko still has some big future decisions to make on Sebastian Giovinco and Jonathan Osorio. This isn’t a team that is going to be fixed by one or two magical signings.
However, there are a couple of moves that would help strengthen this team. The most obvious is another striker in the mould of Jozy Altidore. Toronto have tried many options — Ricketts, Spencer and Hamilton — but still haven’t been able to find a player who can fill in for their designated player.
Without Altidore, Toronto have struggled to create space for Sebastian Giovinco, and they have been without a target for long balls down the field. They’ve also been missing the sort of runs that force opposing backlines to leave space in the midfield.
Another holding midfielder type might also be welcome, considering how much of a void was left when Michael Bradley moved to the backline earlier in the season and the club’s defensive issues in general.
Toronto have tended to look outside MLS for these types of signings lately, but it might be time to start bringing in players more familiar with the ins and outs of the league. Toronto were augmented in a big way back in 2016 with the quartet signings of Drew Moor, Steven Beitashour, Clint Irwin and Will Johnson. A few more of these types of players, less flash but more substance, would be of value.
Bez has been quoted as saying that according to research done by Toronto FC, only about 1 in 3 international signings truly works out. He could go for risk/reward on that route, but the solidity and certainty of an MLS signing or trade might be the better policy at this point.
Whatever takes place, this could be a tricky window for Bezbatchenko. As aforementioned, there will be plenty of temptation to overreact and try to bring in a big piece who will turn things around immediately. Perhaps that piece is available, but it’s more likely to come in the winter.
So while this summer window might be a bit busier than usual for Toronto FC, and changes will certainly be coming, don’t expect anything too wild. It’s probably more prudent to wait till after this whirlwind of a season has concluded, take stock, and make sure this doesn’t happen again next year.