TORONTO – With the start of the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League a little less than a month away, Toronto FC began their preseason on Monday, speaking with the media before departing for the sunnier climes of Los Angeles to get training camp underway.
TFC head coach Greg Vanney confirmed some of the rumored departures: Armando Cooper and Oyvind Alseth are pursuing other opportunities, while Brandon Aubrey, Sergio Camargo, and Mark Pais will not be back this year.
Toronto also lost Steven Beitashour to LAFC, who reportedly snapped up the free agent, as well as Raheem Edwards, selected in the Expansion Draft by LAFC and traded to the Montreal Impact. Benoit Cheyrou retired, joining the TFC academy coaching staff.
Vanney confirmed that Eriq Zavaleta would be back – he re-signed the next day – and so too would Ben Spencer, who was locked up to a deal Wednesday morning. In addition, Tsubasa Endohwill be with the club in preseason, though his future is less certain, depending in part on what else comes to fruition. Talks with veteran defender Jason Hernandez are similarly ongoing.
“We're always trying to make our team better,” Vanney said. “Given [Targeted Allocation Money] and the new mechanisms, we have some opportunity in front of us. We're at a point where we're not just adding anyone. We're being very specific about who we want to add, both as a person and as a player; about the roles we're seeking and the type of player we're trying to get in.”
Vanney added that the club is hoping to add "two or three guys.”
"But I don't feel like we're in a rush,” the TFC coach continued. “It's about finding the right pieces. Yes, we have Champions League coming up, but we have a very good team, we don't have to be in a hurry. We need to be wise about how we build. It's not just about one championship; it's about trying to win every championship this year.”
With the loss of Beitashour, Vanney highlighted the right side as a spot in need of shoring up.
“We have Nico [Hasler], who we love and could be the starter tomorrow. But we need to add some depth,” Vanney said. “[We] drafted Tim Kubel, a right back. We'll continue to look. And then it's adding some pieces. We lost some midfielders, looking in that space, and always challenging the attack in different ways, different looks.”
So basically, it's looking at “every field position,” chuckled Vanney.
Toronto has made several additions already: signing Ayo Akinola (pictured above) in December and Liam Fraser to a Homegrown contract on Jan. 19. They also picked up four players in the MLS SuperDraft who will travel to LA with the side.
Akinola, who Vanney described as a "hybrid forward" capable on the wing and at striker, adds another facet to an already impressive TFC attack, while Fraser is a deep-lying midfielder who has spent the last three seasons developing with TFC II in USL. Vanney heralded Fraser's “great work rate” and “competitive burn to be a great player”.
“To be from Toronto, to play for your hometown is something I've always dreamed of,” Fraser said. “It's massive for me and my family, and a true testament to everything this club is looking to do: put youth through to the first team. I'm really excited; can't wait to get started.”
Kubel, selected 28th overall in the draft, was a player TFC had been tracking closely, hoping he would leave college early on a Generation adidas contract. He spent time with the youth systems at Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke before playing four years at the University of Louisville, and described himself as, “high energy, high intensity”.
“I love to press,” said Kubel, who should fit in nicely with TFC's energetic approach. “As long as my legs can take me I'm running.”
The first team will be joined in LA by 13 players currently on the development pathway: 11 from TFC II, one from TFC III, and another from the academy.
“We're happy with the youth coming up,” Vanney said. “A lot of guys we believe have a future with us. This is an opportunity for them to be in our environment, see the intensity and be right alongside, training and playing, with our first team.”