TORONTO – A relevant question this time of year: what does one get for the club that seems to have everything?
Having set a historic pace in 2017 en route to the Supporters' Shield, which they won by the largest margin in MLS history, and a first MLS Cup — two parts of their historic treble — Toronto FCnaturally head into the offseason with very few weaknesses.
As such the intent, according to general manager Tim Bezbatchenko is that, “There will be very little turnover.”
“That said,” he continued, “we're always looking to improve. If we can, we will. That's my job; that's [head coach Greg Vanney's] job ... to see how we can be better. [With the challenge of] CONCACAF [Champions League], you're going to need more than a starting 11 to get through both fronts unscathed.”
With Toronto's cap situation “extremely tight”, Bezbatchenko admits, “Inevitably, you will have to shed players. You will have to find room, make room, be creative with selections.”
The club announced contract decisions last Thursday, an effort in finding that space, stressing that those who saw their options declined were “likely to be invited to preseason next month.”
Last season, TFC went into the winter with specific needs: a playmaker and a left-footed center-back, which they fulfilled with Victor Vazquez and Chris Mavinga. This year calls for a different strategy.
“It's more about relationships and combinations,” Vanney said. “Whether we look to bring 1-to-3 players, it's about, 'How do they fit in with the guys we have?' We have a good balance, it's looking at depth, guys who can push [starters]. We have a lot of different irons in the fire in different positions. We'll see how things play out over the next week or so.”
“There is a list, in various positions,” Bezbatchenko said. “I need to sit down with Greg, talk about how he wants to evolve from soccer-style standpoint. To be successful on multiple fronts what are the looks that we're going to need? That will drive decision-making.”
The new discretionary TAM will also be a massive boon with 2018 fast approaching.
“This new allocation money could not come at a better time with us going into CONCACAF,” said club president Bill Manning (pictured above). “It's funny to say ... How can you improve on a team that was the best team in MLS history? Tim and I are going to work pretty darn hard to do that. This $2.8 million dollars is going to help.”
“Can we bring in another striker, another defender, another midfielder? Within MLS terms, we were a team that was 14-15 deep; can we be 18 deep? One or two more guys that move in to our starting 11 that bring this team to another level? We're excited about the opportunity. We've already been working on it, in terms of scouting. And once the mechanism was approved we brought it to another level. We're going to get after it pretty hard over the next 60 days.”
A little over a week removed from the MLS Cup victory, the process has already begun. Raheem Edwards was poached in the Expansion Draft by LAFC and quickly flipped to the Montreal Impact, much to the chagrin of TFC fans.
“I've spoken to their agents and to them,” Bezbatchenko said. “We want all these guys back. Unfortunately, we do have a salary cap. We have to make sure that we're setting ourselves up to succeed, not just in Champions League, but for 2018 and '19. Would we like to have all three back? For sure.”
Asked if the style of CONCACAF games might drive their player search, Manning said: “Not necessarily.”
“We want players that have grit and will to win,” he said. “I told Victor, as good a player as he was, what he showed was that he had that inside grit, that determination to win. That's what we're looking for.”
“To come into a team that has a Sebastian Giovinco, a Jozy Altidore, a Michael Bradley ... big personalities, you need the right type,” Manning continued. “Too often in MLS, we've seen big players come into teams that don't mesh with others there. That's why we do the due diligence, personally interview every single player, look them in eye, and break bread, see what they're all about. The key is those players we bring in are going to have to have character.”