As the 2022 MLS season draws to a close, clubs trickle over the line of being mathematically eliminated from the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Though games remain, focus shifts to the offseason and what's next.
Here, we'll be covering three questions for every team moving forward. Think of it as an exit interview, if you will. Matt Doyle, as always, has you covered on his preeminent season-in-review for each club (Toronto FC version). Read that, too.
He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.
Toronto FC absolutely demolished the previous few (disappointing) seasons in the winter. Their entire goal was to blow it up and start from scratch as best they could.
There was (another) coaching change, as legendary American manager Bob Bradley took over on the sidelines after departing LAFC. Bradley also took over in the front office (sporting director) after the previous regime was let go as well.
As for the players? Bradley and Co. planted C4s everywhere and jumpstarted the rebuild. In all, four Designated Players (Alejandro Pozuelo, Yeferson Soteldo, Jozy Altidore and Carlos Salcedo) left and two DP stars were signed (Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi) amid a bevy of further moves. All in all, 23 players (!!!) departed between last year and today, while 15 arrived.
Despite some very encouraging moments, the season ends without the playoffs and without winning the Canadian Championship (at least 2022’s version), thus no Concacaf Champions League soccer awaits in 2023.
Rest assured, there’ll be plenty of more change this offseason as TFC continue to overturn the roster.
TFC signed a pair of in-prime, Italian national team stars in Lorenzo Insigne (ex-Napoli) and Federico Bernardeschi (ex-Juventus), both arriving in the summer. They are two of the league’s biggest (and highest-paid) talents. That starting foundation is something most (all?) other clubs would be jealous of.
Overlooked a bit is that the club still has room for one more with an open Designated Player spot.
Toronto leveraged every last mechanism on their salary cap to make as many high-level changes as quickly as they could in 2022. Maybe they didn’t sign another DP in the summer because they couldn’t fit the max-budget charge onto the cap (remember: senior DPs hit the cap at $612,500, so they still carry a cap hit that needs to be worked into the budget). Or maybe they didn’t want to rush into the first target available rather than waiting for the right one.
Regardless, that’ll change in 2023.
Toronto were legitimately interested in Andrea Belotti (another out-of-contract, in-prime Italian national team star) in the summer, but it wasn’t in the cards. He has since signed with AS Roma in Serie A. There are plenty of big names whose contracts expire next summer, if they choose to go that route again, rather than spend on a big transfer fee (like the $12 million to sign Alejandro Pozuelo or $6 million on Yeferson Soteldo in the past).
Given the huge swings this club has taken whenever they have an open DP spot, expectations should be high. What position will they go for?
DP slots are mostly used on attackers. Toronto have Insigne/Bernardeschi on the wings in Bob Bradley’s 4-3-3 formation. There are investments in Jesus Jimenez and U22 Initiative/homegrown Ayo Akinola at center forward. Will that stop the club from signing a forward?
TFC added Carlos Salcedo as a DP in defense last winter and that… did not work well. They certainly need defensive help. Will they try again for a different player to balance the spend across the roster? Mark-Anthony Kaye is a foundational piece in the midfield. Maybe a DP No. 6/8 to complement Kaye and Michael Bradley?
Big decision on that final DP spot.
Part of what will inform that plan is whether Canadian national teamers Jonathan Osorio and/or Richie Laryea return next season. Osorio is soon out of contract and Laryea is on loan from English Premier League side Nottingham Forest through the summer of 2023.
Both players are really, really good relative to their positional rankings across the league. Neither would be cheap, given Osorio will have plenty of options in free agency here and abroad – while Laryea is under contract with Nottingham, so it’d take a transfer fee to bring him back permanently.
Osorio has spoken in the past of his desire to try Europe for the right option. He also said contract talks with Toronto are ongoing.
"I've been more focused on getting back from this [head] injury,” Osorio said late last week. “I think where my head is at, I'm just trying to focus on finishing the season and then after that we'll see what's there."
Osorio has made 259 MLS appearances with TFC, a homegrown club legend who has been in the first team through their rise from also-rans to treble-winners and beyond. He excelled as a player who could maximize the space left around stars, as he did during the Sebastian Giovinco/Jozy Altidore era, and showed early signs of that once again with Insigne/Bernardeschi before picking up a head injury.
Laryea developed into one of the top fullbacks in the league and a regular with the Canadian national team before getting a transfer to Nottingham last year. It didn’t work out in England, but he should have options for his next destination after the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Toronto have been absolutely box-office viewing since the summer for great and not-so-great reasons. They have elite star power and an open attack… but a defense full of gaps and chances conceded.
While they have scored two or more goals in seven of their last nine matches, Toronto have allowed two or more in seven of those nine. They have only come away with three wins in that timeframe, despite averaging 2.1 goals per game.
Domenico Criscito has been an upgrade at left back immediately, ditto for Laryea on the right, but Doneil Henry hasn’t made a start since being signed this summer. The midfield was super thin to begin with, anchored by Michael Bradley but routinely filled with a winger (Jayden Nelson) playing out of his typical position as Kaye and Osorio have been out.
Bob Bradley said there “1,000 percent” will be changes to the roster next season, as the team’s youngsters haven’t quite developed as they hoped.
“Sometimes you need more time, [but] have all of them developed as quickly as I would have hoped this year? No, not necessarily,” Bradley said via Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun.
For a team with stars like Insigne and Bernardeschi in attack, then Kaye and Bradley in the midfield, you’ve got to imagine a lot of the additions will have a defensive view.
A couple more thoughts:
- While Bradley expressed his disappointment with the young players in the first team… who can take a step forward next year? If any?
- Will Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, a rising young Canadian international, still be here in 2023?
- Offseason goal: Replenish depth.