If there is one season Toronto FC seems to have mastered, it’s the offseason. For a third year in a row, Toronto has made waves with substantial, potentially team-altering moves.
The 2014 and 2015 breaks will be remembered for the Jermain Defoe/Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore/Sebastian Giovinco signings respectively. Those moves were all announced in January of each year, not too far ahead of training camp. Additionally, they involved players moving in from Europe, though Bradley and Altidore had previous Major League Soccer experience.
Toronto FC Bolsters Lineup
The difference this time around however, is that the signings are Major League Soccer based, with Steven Beitashour traded from Vancouver, Drew Moor coming in from Colorado, and Will Johnson coming over from Portland. Compared with the past two years, the additions are a month early, even before the end of the calendar year. Could it be an indication of a better organized management approach; more thorough planning?
Whatever the interpretation, this not only the earliest Toronto FC has gotten out of the offseason gate, but constitutes the most targeted and prescriptive approach the franchise has ever taken towards filling obvious lineup needs.
Moor and Beitashour offer notable upgrades to a back line that, despite some efforts on the part of management, fell woefully short of championship worthiness in 2015. In fact, Toronto FC had a dismal defensive 2015 season, allowing an enormous 58 goals in 34 games, tied with New York City FC and the Chicago Fire for the League worst. With the early season injury and eventual retirement of Steven Caldwell, the Toronto FC defence never did find stability. The additions of veterans Damien Perquis and Ahmed Kantari showed very little in stopping the defensive nightmare.
Beitashour, acquired in a trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps for a second round pick, is a 28 year old right fullback with extensive MLS experience in San Jose and Vancouver. He is reunited with former Earthquakes teammate Justin Morrow, a solid left side fullback who has steadily carved his own niche in Toronto and was recently resigned.
Drew Moor, signed as a free agent, is a Major League Soccer All Star centre back, a solid defender who was part of the Rapids squad that won the MLS Cup in 2010. He has a proven record as a rearguard, with a glowing record of consistency and reliability throughout his career. Making an apparent successful recovery from a torn ACL in 2014, he has returned to form in 2015 and will no doubt stabilize the left centre back position, potentially aiming to get the best out of whomever his regular partner turns out to be.
Will Johnson joins Toronto FC after having just won an MLS Cup with the Portland Timbers. He was dealt in exchange for Targeted Allocation Money and a conditional second round pick in the 2017 MLS Superdraft. Johnson also won an MLS Cup with Real Salt Lake in 2009 and quickly became captain once arriving in Portland. He is a Canadian international with early career experience in Europe and solid MLS experience, having joined Major League Soccer in 2005. Undoubtedly his longstanding friendship with Michael Bradley and his proven leadership will make him an integral part of Toronto FC both on and off the field .
Of course, the ultimate benefit of these signings will be the added stability that can be expected from the back line on out. If all goes as planned, it will allow Giovinco and company to execute the kind of final third attacking and finishing they were designed to. Greg Vanney will have an incredibly enviable-yet challenging-job of putting these pieces together; but then again, that’s not entirely new.
Hopefully, the departures of Robbie Findley, Jackson, Manny Aparicio, Chris Konopka and Joe Bendik will help in freeing up much of the cap space required to successfully incorporate these three. A marginal 5% increase in total cap space will help but considering Toronto FC are now in the hunt for a goaltender, there may be other regulars on the way out. Given this is still early in the offseason, they may not be done yet.
A back line with Beitashour and Moor, not to mention Josh Williams, Justin Morrow, Nick Hagglund, Clement Simonin, Eriq Zavaleta, Kantari, Perquis, and a hopefully healthy Mark Bloom should be able to gel as a solid unit with reasonable depth. Some folks have speculated that Kantari may not be around much longer and may very well be a casualty of the cap space issue.
Perhaps the key to these moves lies in the fact that all three new additions are very excited to join Toronto FC and contribute to an organization they feel is on the rise. Time will tell how well the on field product performs, but on any level, Toronto FC has never appeared as practical in its offseason dealing.