Wheeler's Insider | Transfer Targets, Altidore's Hot Start and more

Another week; another name being linked to Toronto FC. A different name pops up as the wind blows these days.  Rumour, agent talk, and speculation are engrained in football culture. The difference now, more and more big names continue to be linked to Major League Soccer.

Toronto FC is one of the few teams in MLS that has the backing to generally splash the big cash for big name recruits. Thus, players with substantial resumes continue to be linked.

This week, it was Arjen Robben’s turn to have his name thrown into the mixer. Multiple unsubstantiated reports had the 35-year old Dutchman linked to Toronto. The stand-out winger is out of contract in the summer with Bayern Munich, after enduring an injury plagued season; a bad omen for a player getting on in years.  

Toronto FC generally doesn’t comment on various rumours. But with a name as big as this, with some prominent individuals speculating on what it may mean, the club got out in front of it. The rumours were shot down: Robben is not coming to Toronto.

Speaking with General Manager Ali Curtis, he told me the links to Robben were “news to him.” He had received no contact from Robben’s camp, not even a text message. So for him, it was a non-story. No talks were had from a Toronto FC perspective. And if we are to speculate further, Robben’s representatives most likely engaged in exploratory talks about a potential move to MLS. Toronto’s prominence and desire to add a winger led to any interest on the part of the player. As often times with rumours as such, talks are floated by agents to gauge interest and to put potential suiters on alert for the player, creating a market. And a market the rumours may have created, with MLSSoccer.com penning a piece on potential MLS landing spots for the aging superstar. Spoiler alert: Toronto isn’t one of them.

As Curtis tells me, it’s easy to find talent on the market; it’s more difficult to find a player who is the right fit, the proper character, at the right price, at the right position. The club is still in the process of adding two more players, Curtis tells me, with progress continuing on the transfer front, one potential signing seemingly closer than the other. While crazy things can happen until pen is put to paper, Curtis is optimistic.

Toronto FC remains interested in at least one winger. A player at a wide position able and willing to get in behind the backline is universally desired at the club. The second player could be another wide player, or someone who could address another need in the team. The MLS primary transfer window remains open until May 7, with the secondary window opening July 7 and remaining so until August 7. Curtis believes one player will arrive before May 7, while leaving the door open for the second player to arrive in the summer. Obviously, the preference is to bring in both players as soon as possible, but getting the right player is more important than rushing the process.  So one player now, and one player in the secondary window is a possibility.

The strong start to the season combined with a healthy squad with competition for places means there will be no rush to sign. Curtis continues his due diligence, spending some time in Argentina two weeks ago. Interestingly, the Argentina SuperLiga season just came to an end on the weekend, making for a more open market on the South American front. Nothing is imminent, but Curtis did tell TSN’s Kristian Jack ahead of the NYCFC match that a midfielder and defender were among the targets being watched. And as of Tuesday, Curtis says there has been progress on that front.

That’s where we’re at. Toronto FC have the most points per game and goals for in the East. The Reds sit in second place in the Conference. The club is active but not antsy; just where they want to be. Why settle for Robben when a potential Batman could be on the market?

Jozy Just Getting Started

Jozy Altidore was unplayable against Chicago last weekend, earning MLS Team of the Week honours for his effort. Altidore scored, making it three in three, and assisted on the second half equalizer in the 2-2 draw.  The movement of the 29-year old was outstanding on the day, working well off the ball and showing his powerful drive when needed the most.  Altidore simply bullied rookie left-back Jeremiah Gutjahr setting up Jonathan Osorio’s back-post goal.

A fit and fresh Altidore is an absolute force in MLS. According to the player, the best is still to come.  Altidore tells me he feels good but is still working his way back to full fitness. The U.S. international didn’t have a pre-season, taking it slow in returning from season ending surgery six months ago. It's all about total match fitness for Altidore before he considers himself back to 100 percent.  

Full health is everything for the player, because when fit, few are as dominant in MLS. Altidore is averaging a goal every 67 minutes thus far. His previous most efficient output came in an injury-plagued 2018, scoring every 125 minutes. With Sebastian Giovinco gone and Altidore the undisputed biggest goal scoring threat in the team, it’s very likely he will eclipse his regular season high of 15 goals with Toronto FC set back in 2017. He has back-to-back games having six shots towards goal. By comparison, Altidore only had four games with six shots over his previous 89 regular season games wearing Red. His usage rate is through the roof over the last two games, which could signal what is to come. And as for Saturday in Seattle, Altidore tells me his is raring to go. No rest for the red-hot.

Around the Wheeler

  • No matter what happens Saturday in Seattle, this will still go down as the best five-game start to a Toronto FC season. The previous best start was in 2008 (nine points through five). The treble-winning 2017 team is the only side going undefeated through five games (one win, four draws).  TFC can match that undefeated streak to start a season with a win or a draw on the weekend.
  • Long travel and the artificial surface in Seattle always makes for a selection dilemma. Head Coach Greg Vanney has typically played it safe on these kinds of trips. TFC's last trip to Seattle came in 2017 and a 1-0 away win. Vanney made five changes for the game and may be tempted to do the same this time around. Nick DeLeon and Drew Moor have both been very good out of the gate, but both missed long stretches through injury last season.  A week off could do them both good ahead of a home game against Minnesota next Friday night.  
  • The top three teams in the Eastern Conference last season have all gotten off to difficult starts. Atlanta (12th), NYCFC (11th) and Red Bulls (9th) have a combined 10 points in 14 games thus far. Winning isn’t easy.
  • The process of stitching the synthetic surface to the pitch at BMO Field has begun. The work started Monday and will take 8 or 9 days to complete. The final product will be 95 percent grass and 5 percent synthetic. The belief is the field will maintain its integrity through the difficult Canadian weather with this surface upgrade. Full credit to the grounds crew: the field has been outstanding over the last few weeks, with visiting teams very complimentary of the work. And now the famous field at BMO is set to look even better. 
  • Toronto FC II kicked off life in USL League One with a 2-0 victory. Jordan Perruzza’s crafty chip over the goalkeeper is a lock for Goal of the Week. Head Coach Michael Rabasca was pleased with the team’s effort, but feels they should have come away with more goals against 10-men Orlando B.  Development is key but starting to win games is massive for the confidence of the young group. 16-year old Jayden Nelson also made his professional debut, coming on as a substitute. The next six TFC II games are on the road before starting play at their new home at the BMO Training Ground on May 24.
  • Is Seattle v. Toronto a rivalry? At least one TFC player suggested the history between the teams adds a little something more to this weekend’s game. Two MLS Cup finals and a frustrating loss last year at home for TFC provides that much more incentive heading out West.
  • The Sounders are off to a flier on the season, undefeated (4-1-0) through five games, sitting in second in the West. A healthy Jordan Morris adds more of a threat down the wing for a team that plays plenty of balls inside the 18. The TFC backline will have to be tidy dealing with crosses. Nicolas Lodeiro (two goals, three assists) pulls the strings for a talented attack. And Stefan Frei backstops the stingiest defensive group in MLS, having conceded a league low three goals thus far.
  • Seattle caught a break ahead of the weekend after Wednesday night’s game against Colorado was postponed due to inclement weather.  A midweek fixture would have meant TFC would face a different side with a different level of fatigue.