The primary transfer window for Major League Soccer closes Tuesday May 7th. It's the last chance for MLS teams to complete signings, loan deals, transfers and trades until the summer. That means any player with a current deal with another club has until Tuesday to make the move to another, or they remain where they are until the window re-opens. The secondary transfer window for MLS re-opens July 7 and stays open for a month. So it's a matter of deal now or hold tight ... until July.
We're hoping for a busy month across MLS. After all, trades and signings add a level of excitement and intrigue to all professional sports leagues. It's that much more wide-ranging in the world of football, as the global scale of the game provides more opportunities to deal and add. However, in MLS it's very difficult to make moves in a salary cap system. And even more difficult because the international market has become that much more expensive to navigate. That said, Toronto FC is still hoping to bring in at least one new player by Tuesday.
General Manager Ali Curtis tells me he remains in "active" discussions on the International market, attempting to bring in new recruits from outside MLS. Every player Toronto FC has targeted is under contract with a club, so it takes two sides to be on the same page to get a deal over the line. "If their clubs agree to let the players come to Toronto, then you'll see a signing prior to Tuesday," says Curtis.
Curtis said he likes the current squad, but is always looking for ways to improve, either for the short or long term. The last thing Curtis wants to do is make a deal that doesn't make sense for the player or the club. "If we need to wait until the summer, then we will have the patience and discipline to do so."
Waiting for the secondary window isn't something fans and supporters want to hear, but it is sometimes the reality when trying to get negotiations completed. TFC would have preferred to have brought Alejandro Pozuelo to Toronto to start the season. But a late-March arrival was worth the wait. It can be a process getting deals completed; landing the right player, with the right personality, who will be the right fit on the field and in the dressing room.
Another option is to find a trade partner from within MLS to address needs in the squad. Unfortunately, the trade market hasn't been as active as Curtis would have hoped; at least not yet. "You will see a few trades occurring, but it's not as liquid of a market as you'd hope." Curtis said there are a few players in MLS who Toronto FC are keeping an eye on. Discussions are ongoing, according to Curtis, but he's waiting patiently to see if things might progress.
Trades within MLS don't happen as much as they used to. Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) has been a good thing for the league, allowing clubs to bring in better players from abroad or use that money to acquire and sign top players from within the league. But what it also does is turn the focus on addressing needs to the international market rather than making trades within the league. There is less desire to give up assets than there was before the TAM Era. Maneuvering to acquire GAM and TAM, and opening up roster spots is more of a desire through trade than trading player for player, addressing need for need.
Curtis reiterated what the club has said for quite some time, that they are in the market for a wide, attacking player. This type of player would be a logical fit. TFC had difficulty changing the game, breaking down the Portland Timbers in Saturday's 2-1 home loss. A wide player of a different profile would allow Head Coach Greg Vanney to change the game, giving a defensive side something else to consider when defending deep against his team. It's abundantly clear the ideal player will be a runner. That doesn't mean a sprinter; a player who simply is just fast. A runner is someone willing to get in behind the backline and allow the midfield to play more direct. It's someone who knows where and when to get forward, be aggressive and run at defenders. Toronto is a very skillful, but doesn't have many with the mentality to get behind and threaten or want to get deep and take players on.
Adding to the List
The shopping list for Curtis has evolved a bit since training camp. As the weeks roll on, you learn about your team. One has to wonder if another centre-back may have been added to that list. Drew Moor missed out last weekend with calf tightness. Moor is not and was not injured, but the decision not to play was merely precautionary. The defender felt tightness in his legs before suffering a quad injury that would ruin his year last season. So the decision was made for Moor not to be risked.
The 15-year veteran is such an important player for the group. It's inarguable when Moor plays, the team defends better. At 35 and coming off last season, Moor will have to be managed. He should remain a big game player, but that doesn't mean an every game player. The centre-back position is an all-important one, with Vanney at times deciding to play three at the position. Chris Mavinga, Laurent Ciman and Eriq Zavaleta are an experienced trio. But if one of them goes down to injury, Toronto FC could be left thin at the position. It wouldn't surprise if this was an area Curtis is trying to recruit.
I'm sure the dream wish-list goes beyond the two aforementioned positions, but if you were to add a third, a left-sided winger would have to be another. Nick DeLeon has been a very good addition down the right. The left-flank doesn't have that natural outside player. Jonathan Osorio's starting position is generally down the left, but the player comes inside and does his damage from the middle. Adding another aggressive player down the left to combine with Justin Morrow makes a lot of sense.
Around the Wheeler
- TFC's relatively light schedule is no more after Saturday. Five games in 15 days, three coming away from home, provides a good test for squad depth. By comparison, Toronto's last five games came in a 30-day span.
- Expect squad rotation for the upcoming games, and that includes some kind of rotation at the goalkeeper position. Quentin Westberg got the start on Saturday, his second of the season. His work on the ball has impressed, and the experience of the goalkeeper is a positive attribute. Westberg has conceded five goals in two games, but in fairness, the blame cannot be put on the goalkeeper for any of them. It may take this five game stretch to make a proper determination as to who is the number one, with Westberg and Alex Bono both likely to receive games.
- Vanney was critical of his group Saturday for keeping possession for the sake of possession. Six shots on 56 percent possession proves his point. He needs more bravery from his group, being able to play more direct, be willing to stretch the field and not always look to make the perfect pass. Toronto is tops in MLS is pass percentage (85.5%). All coaches would be okay for that number to drop if it leads to more chances.
- We've now seen it from Portland and Chicago; two teams wiling to sit back and have TFC try to beat them from deep positions. What do TFC need to do to move around a well organized backline? How about start the build quicker. The defenders need to build out of the back quicker, not allowing the defensive blocks to take shape. Passing with purpose, starting attacks quicker and not being afraid to go over the top at times would help immensely. Jordan Hamilton and the attack had little to feast on Saturday. Let's see if that changes in Orlando this weekend.
- More impressive statistics to add to Alejandro Pozuelo's impressive start to the season: he leads MLS in Key Passes per game (3.8) and Dribbles per game (3.4). At week's end, he was the league's highest rated player on WhoScored.com.
- Orlando City SC (3-3-3, 12 points, 6th place in Eastern Conference) has its own high profile addition taking MLS by storm. Luis Nani, the former Manchester United player, has been very good for the Lions. The 32-year old has five goals and 4 assists in nine games played (7 starts), including two match winners to his early season resume. The five goals have come in his last four games, and in fairness he could have had more. Nani lines up on the left of an attacking three. He still has the pace and trickery to cause problems across the backline, but also regularly comes inside, dropping in to fill the space created by Dom Dwyer. The DP is the danger man and the one to watch out for at Orlando City Stadium Saturday afternoon (4pm, TSN4).
- Two wins and a draw in three away games for TFCII to start the season in a 2-0 win over Lansing. Luca Petrasso earned USL League 1 Team of the Week honours with his second goal of the season. Midfielder Adolfo Ovalle joined Petrasso in the Team of the Week XI scoring the penalty to ensure the three points. Three more away games before the TFC II home opener at the BMO Training Ground on Friday May 24.
- Congratulations to on-loan midfielder Ryan Telfer, scoring the first goal in Canadian Premier League history as his York9 side drew Forge FC 1-1 in Hamilton. Telfer impressed playing the full 90 minutes, in a game featuring multiple former Toronto FC academy players.