TORONTO – A day after the club announced their roster decisions, Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko spoke about their implications as focus turns to the 2019 season.
The club revealed on Tuesday that contract options on eight players, Drew Moor, Nick Hagglund, Ashtone Morgan, Jay Chapman, Caleb Patterson-Sewell, Aidan Daniels, Julian Dunn, and Ryan Telfer, were exercised.
They join the 14 players already under contract for next season. With 22 of 30 possible spots filled heading into the winter, the 2019 roster promises to look very similar to this year's vintage.
“We believe in this roster,” said Bezbatchenko on a conference call on Wednesday. “This group of players competed at a high level very recently. [They are] going to come back hungrier and ready to compete in [the Concacaf Champions League] and the regular season.”
“I don't think there is any rationale to want an overhaul or major change,” added Bezbatchenko, reiterating his comments at the end of October. “That said, we always look for ways to improve. It's more retooling than significant overhaul.”
Bezbatchenko noted that Moor's return was particularly important: “We saw when he or Chris [Mavinga] were not on the field our goals-against average was higher and we weren't able to win games.”
“It's critical that we brought Drew back,” added Bezbatchenko. “He organizes our back-line, he's a communicator; a player that connects players on and off the field.”
Options on Clint Irwin and Tosaint Ricketts were not exercised, while both Jason Hernandez and Jordan Hamilton will be out of contract at year's end. Irwin has spent three seasons in Toronto and Ricketts two-and-a-half. Hernandez, now a free agent, joined ahead of the treble-winning 2017 season.
Bezbatchenko said such decisions were “very difficult,” but left the door open for future developments on all fronts.
“Very good players; very good characters for the locker room. They're leaders, they're mature; they understand the league,” explained the general manager of the veteran trio. “That said, it's not entirely out of the question that one or two could be back. It's just that at this point, we wanted to explore other options. We'll continue talks with their agents.”
“I wanted to make sure I thanked them for their contributions to helping build a championship contender,” added Bezbatchenko. “Tosaint and Clint will be in the MLS Re-Entry Draft, where teams can pick them up at their option number. If not, in Stage Two they'll be able to negotiate with clubs, including ourselves, at a lower number.”
With Hernandez, should he choose to retire, Bezbatchenko added that they are open to exploring options within the club as well.
The club hopes that Hamilton, a 22-year-old homegrown forward who has been with the first team since 2014, will return.
“We think Jordan will be a great piece for our team,” said Bezbatchenko. “There are times where he's stepped into the first team and done very well. This year he did well in the USL, showed he could compete and be one of the best goalscorers in [that] league.”
Hamilton scored eight goals in 10 appearances for TFC II in 2018 and two in 14 with the first team in MLS.
“He's done what we've asked of him. Now the contract is up and we're negotiating,” confirmed Bezbatchenko. “I hope that he's back. That said, there are two parties that have to come to an agreement. We're working on that now.”
In addition, it was noted that both Auro Jr. and Lucas Janson, who were on loan from Brazilian side Sao Paulo FC and CA Tigre of Argentina, respectively, will see those agreements expire in December.
“I'm actively speaking with both clubs, and with the players, about how we can make it work,” said Bezbatchenko. “Both players [fit with the team]. Now we either purchase at the price in the loan agreement or work out new parameters. That's what I'm working on, hopefully we can keep one or both of them.”
And with the news that Ager Aketxe's contract has been terminated by mutual consent, Bezbatchenko was adamant that cap space will not be a major headache this offseason.
“We [have room to manoeuvre],” said the GM. “We're in a good position from a salary cap standpoint.”
Depending how the aforementioned talks proceed, TFC will have limited room for new additions, though that is not set in stone.
“There are only a few spots [open],” said Bezbatchenko. “Unless a transaction involves a player or two moving out. That's a possibility. I can't rule out that in order to bring in a player that fits a need, we might have to explore sending a player out – a trade or a loan, whether that be to other MLS teams, USL teams, or abroad.”
“I'm not concerned too much,” closed Bezbatchenko on the limited openings. “If there is a player that we feel will help us get better, I can find a roster spot.”