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Toronto FC’s Management has had a good off-season (thus far)

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When life hands you lemons...

MLS: FC Dallas at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

So, you wanted drama? You wanted excitement? You wanted a reason to constantly monitor your favourite Toronto FC website? Well, you got it... again, and again, and again!

Even if nothing else happens between now and the first MLS game (fat chance), this has been the off-season to end all off-seasons. In each transaction, Toronto FC’s management has done the right thing under some very trying circumstances.

Sebastian Giovinco, while undoubtedly the best footballer in TFC history, was handsomely paid for his tremendous service over the past four years. By any stretch of the imagination, he was not hard done by. His was a contract that broke all records and was so outrageous that no other MLSer signed since has come close to matching it. The chart below clearly illustrates this.

The above salary numbers are from the MLS Players Salary Guide, as of September 2018. Schweinsteiger, Martinez, and Ibrahimovic have signed new contracts since these numbers were published. Presumably, Schweini took a pay cut and Josef and Zlatan received pay raises. But even if their pay raises tripled their old rates, they would both still need a trip aboard the Millennium Falcon to hike them into Giovinco’s stratosphere (assume that Zlatan is Chewie).

MLS: MVP Press Conference Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Giovinco could not, and should not, have continued to be paid at this exorbitant level. There is an age-old debate: should a professional athlete get paid based on future potential or should he/she get paid for how successful they were in the past? Forget what “should” happen. The only thing that matters is what actually does happen. Teams pay for estimated future contributions based, in large part, on recent performances. As Mitchell Tierney eloquently states in his article, these payments take the form of both transfer fees and salaries. Look no further than the $27 million shelled out by Newcastle for Miguel Almiron or the $22 million that Bayern Munich paid for Alphonso Davies as proof. Let’s call this the “principle of professional athlete payment.”

In terms of Giovinco, the market has spoken. Outside of an outlier with pockets deeper than the Mariana Trench, there were no suitors. Apparently, all that TFC was able to get was a meager $2-3 million transfer fee from Al-Hilal. At the salary rate that Seba was demanding, it seems that no one else wanted him. There was no Newcastle United or Bayern Munich. Heck, there wasn’t even a call from Huddersfield. The outlier (Al-Hilal) does not skew the curve. Based on the above chart, and the principle of professional athlete payment, a pay raise for Giovinco was not merited, nor was maintaining the status quo.

In the end, Toronto FC offered Seba a contract assumed to be in the $4-5 million/year range. That would still have put him ahead of 99% of the players in the League and, assuming that Michael Bradley’s and Jozy Altidore’s contracts were/are also being renegotiated, that amount would probably have maintained Giovinco’s status as the highest paid player on the team. All very reasonable. But not to Seba.

Decision made. No one is bigger than the team. As difficult as it must have been, the right decision was to avoid this continuing distraction and move on.

Speaking of distractions, in a recent interview with John Molinaro (thanks to WTR reader Frank Eva for the link), Greg Vanney indicated that the Gregory van der Wiel saga was not just a recent phenomenon. This is not overly surprising if we gaze back to the final weeks of the 2018 season.

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

During a mid-September game against the LA Galaxy at BMO Field, vdW was chastised by TSN’s Steven Caldwell for publicly stating that the team’s playoff hopes were dead. This was in direct violation of the party-line coming from the dressing room at the time. Everyone wearing a red shirt kept telling the public that the Emperor was fully clothed and that his gown was made of the finest silk and satin. Not vdW.

A mere three weeks later, in the penultimate home game of the season, Gregory earned his first red card of the year. Ill-timed as it was, his lack of discipline came during the loss that officially punted TFC from the playoff picture. After barking at his teammates for parts of the match, van der Wiel took a lazy second yellow that no one but Auro questioned. Telling was how the Captain, who is usually the first to defend any and all of his teammates, just slumped his shoulders and scratched his head. Perhaps this maybe reading too much into the situation, but you be the judge:

At any rate, whatever “distractions” were being caused, van der Wiel’s on-field performance was not consistently good enough to excuse these disturbances in the locker room. Or, more aptly, the combination of his hefty salary plus his average performance on the pitch proved too much to tolerate any “insubordinate” behaviour. The decision: remove/buy out this overpaid, average-performing, problem child before the 2019 season starts so that his salary won’t count towards the cap and the resulting cap space (and the allocation money savings, if any) can be better spent. Also, remove this particular distraction so that the team can focus on, and prepare for, the year ahead. Good move #2.

Next, let’s tackle the departure of Victor Vazquez. Again, management had a tough call. In my opinion, this was the toughest call of the off-season. As we all know, VV wanted more money and, reportedly, a longer term. At $1.5 million per season, he was already being compensated quite handsomely. In early 2018 he signed a “multi-year” contract extension. It would be safe to assume that this new deal took him at least to the end of 2020. But, that’s part of the problem with the Vazquez situation — he had just signed the new deal.

MLS: New England Revolution at Toronto FC Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

In March 2018, the Club had done the right thing and doubled Vazquez’s 2017 earnings. They also gave him a few more years of stability. Less than a year later, with the terrible memories of the past season still haunting the organization, how could management justify a large salary increase to an aging, injury-prone player who had just signed a lucrative contract? What message would that have sent to the rest of the team? What kind of precedent would that have set for negotiations with the three DPs — all of whom were/are overpaid relative to the principle of professional athlete payment? The Club had treated VV quite fairly. If he didn’t feel that was enough, then it was time to move on. Good move #3.

Trading Nick Hagglund was great for the team as well as the player. The signing of Nick DeLeon will provide much-needed depth, and the addition of Laurent Ciman is the best defensive acquisition since Chris Mavinga. Call these “Good moves 4, 5, and 6”. (It’s a shame that these transactions are currently mere footnotes in this off-season of turmoil. This will change once the games start for real. But, for now, these achievements are greatly overshadowed.)

MLS: Columbus Crew at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, there was the act of finding a quick replacement for Tim Bezbatchenko. While TBez was sprinting for the exit, Bill Manning and Greg Vanney did a very nice job bringing in a promising General Manager who, through this maelstrom of craziness, has remained professional and positive. In a recent interview with Kristian Jack (credit to WTR’s own JPN for the link), Ali Curtis likened the current upheaval at Toronto FC to what he experienced in his first season with New York — a season where the Red Bulls went on to capture the Supporters’ Shield. Were Manning and Vanney anticipating a potential storm of discontent? Did this play a role in their search for a successor to Sir Tim? Given that Giovinco’s situation had been well known for several months, and given that van der Wiel was a disruption during 2018, and given that Vazquez had already approached the team with his request for yet another new deal, perhaps this consideration was one of the key factors in Curtis’ hiring. Even if it was a mere fluky coincidence, it seems to have worked out well, so far. For now, let’s call this “Good move # 7”.

There it is. Lemonade, artfully crafted in seven, well-executed steps. Now, how sweet that lemonade actually tastes depends upon the moves yet to come.