TORONTO – Two days into the preparations for the upcoming season and already a theme has emerged.
Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco, as well as club captain Michael Bradley, are in the final year of their current contracts with Toronto FC.
Bradley was adamant, when last season came to a close, that such uncertainty would be no distraction. Giovinco and Altidore were equally unequivocal on Tuesday.
“I'm a professional. I've demonstrated that,” said Giovinco, who with 83 goals for TFC is aiming to score his 100th for the club this season. “I care about my team; about myself. For me, nothing changes.”
Finally fit after carrying an injury since the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, Altidore admitted this was a new situation for him.
“It's bittersweet in a way because you don't know what the future holds, but it doesn't change anything,” said Altidore. “It doesn't make me want to play any less, with any less emotion. I still can't wait to play at BMO [Field], score goals and jump in the South End, enjoy with them, because this has been a fantastic ride. I'm looking forward to it continuing.”
The news that Victor Vazquez is expected to depart for Qatar in the coming days shook the TFC landscape, just as former-general manager Tim Bezbatchenko's move to Columbus Crew SC did earlier this month. The Concacaf Champions League, where TFC aim to go one step further than they did last season, kicks off in just over a month. Question marks are never what a coach wants hanging over his side.
If Greg Vanney is sweating, he did not indicate as much.
“It's normal for players in the last year of their contract to be looking or listening to things,” said the Reds' head coach, adding that the agents will handle that part so the players can focus on the day-to-day. “These guys are professional. I don't think it will be a distraction. Hopefully we can come to a resolution, keep these guys here, and continue to move forward. That would be the simple solution. But all of that is a work in progress and there are multiple parties involved in that decision.”
Prior to moving to Columbus, Bezbatchenko said that those necessary conversations would be beginning as the calendar moved from 2018 to 2019. With Ali Curtis stepping into the GM role at TFC, entirely new relationships must be forged.
Giovinco said that he had spoken with Curtis, briefly, “just to meet,” while Altidore had not yet had the chance.
“He just got here,” smiled Altidore. “I've made my intentions clear. I hope the fans know this is where I want to be. All I can do is keep reiterating that; hopefully the rest takes care of itself.”
The rumor mill, always turning, has churned out several interested parties in the past for their services.
“We'll see what happens,” said Giovinco. “I want to stay here, but I hear something already about somebody wants to offer me to another team. I'll enjoy this year because it can be my last ... or no, we'll see.”
Pressed on the unnamed other team, Giovinco demurred: “I can't say too much.” Vanney said he was not “personally aware” of such an approach, adding: “I usually hear about those things.”
The club later clarified that there has not been an official offer for the player.
Giovinco did take some umbrage at being 'a year older' – he turns 32 later this month.
“Players in Italy play until they're 40,” he said. “In MLS, you [would] think we can play until 38. I have another six years. It's not only about the age, but everything – training, games.”
Age, after all, is just a number.
“Now I'm here, I'm happy to be,” added the Italian. “We'll see what happens this year and in the future.”
Until decisions are made and announced, there will continue to be talk.
“That's the reality of these periods, the transfer window,” explained Altidore. “As a player, you don't want to deal with those things, you want to focus on your club and winning. I want to focus on being here and winning trophies.”
“I still feel like I have four or five good years left in me and I just want to win,” continued the 29-year-old. “I've gotten addicted to winning here; it's become an obsession. And so I want more. I want more trophies.”
“This is just the beginning,” concluded Altidore. “This club now is going to get better and better, in terms of how we play, but [also] trying to be dominant. That's the goal here: to be one of the top clubs in MLS. Not just over two to three years, but five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years.”