Why Toronto FC thinks Pablo Piatti "could be a steal" of a Designated Player signing

Pablo Piatti - Toronto FC - training

TORONTO – When closing the page on last year’s MLS Cup final defeat, the consensus was that Toronto FC needed some additional firepower, preferably out wide.

Three months later, the club believes that’s addressed with the signing of Argentine winger Pablo Piatti from La Liga club RCD Espanyol on Feb. 7 as their third Designated Player.

“We need him to stretch the opposition defensively, both by trying to get to the space behind them, but also sometimes staying out on the sideline, and to give us some one-on-one [threat],” head coach Greg Vanney outlined from training camp in Los Angeles on Monday. “He's a very talented player, has a pedigree to go with it, but what our team needs is something very specific. Hopefully, he can bring that.”

Betting on a 30-year-old coming off a knee injury comes with risks, but TFC feels confident after doing their due diligence.

Piatti was assessed by five doctors, specialists and trainers, including Toronto Raptors VP of player health and performance, Alex McKechnie, who oversaw Kawhi Leonard’s load management as they lifted the 2019 NBA Championship. A personal program will be crafted for Piatti with the aim of keeping him on the field for at least 70 percent of the total minutes threshold that TFC keeps internally for all top players.

“He talked us through his history, we got some real assessment from our medical team,” said TFC president Bill Manning on a conference call earlier this month. “We feel it was worth it to take this chance on a player who came off an ACL [injury] a year ago.”

“He has a bit of a chip on his shoulder too,” explained Manning, noting that Carlos Vela and Nicolas Lodeiro are both the same age as the Argentine. “That surgery probably cost him another big contract in Europe. If we keep him healthy, we think he could be a steal for us.”

Though Piatti hasn’t yet featured in preseason – that could come this week – Vanney has “an idea and a vision” for how the former La Liga man will fit, but wouldn't quantify his expectations via goals and assists. Rather, it’s how Piatti fits into the broader puzzle that most interests Vanney.

In particular, Piatti’s relationship with fellow DP Alejandro Pozuelo could prove most fruitful.

“They get along fabulously,” said Vanney. “Two peas in the pod when it comes to off the field. They see the game in a similar way, there will be a chemistry there.

Having done much of their heavy renovations midway through last season, Toronto have been relatively quiet heading into 2020.

Piatti is the only outside reinforcement, joined by three young Homegrown signings – Rocco Romeo, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and Jayden Nelson – to add some freshness and youth. TFC are all but done with 28 of 30 roster spots filled, but Vanney left the door open for a few moves.

Ifunanyachi Achara, an attacker selected from Georgetown University in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft's first round, has impressed in preseason, scoring three goals in as many games. And the departure of Ashtone Morgan to Real Salt Lake opened up a potential need at left-back to provide cover behind Justin Morrow. Terique Mohammed and Luca Petrasso from USL League One side TFC II are possible in-house candidates.

However, any addition may require some further wrangling.

“That's all going to shape up over the next couple of weeks,” Vanney said ahead of the Feb. 28 roster compliance deadline.