TORONTO – The opening of the summer transfer window is always a busy time for general managers across the league.
It is no different for Toronto FC's Tim Bezbatchenko, perhaps more so because of where the club finds itself just past the halfway point of the 2018 MLS regular season.
Mired in the lower reaches of the Eastern Conference, after successive runs to the MLS Cup final, lifting the trophy last year, and reaching the final of the Concacaf Champions League in April, only to lose in a shootout, TFC are on the verge of missing the playoffs.
“Assessing our team and what has happened after Champions League is the priority,” said Bezbatchenko on Tuesday of his current focus. “[For] the summer window, the priority is getting our players back healthy. For me, Greg [Vanney] and the group, getting players back is like summer signings.”
In seasons past, Toronto have taken this opportunity to add pieces in anticipation of a push to December.
Tosaint Ricketts, Armando Cooper, and Nicolas Hasler have all joined during this period. But with the likes of Jozy Altidore, Drew Moor, Chris Mavinga, and Victor Vazquez, to name just some of those currently unavailable, set to return in the coming weeks, the squad is already due for a lift.
“That said, we're always active, talking to teams,” explained Bezbatchenko. “I would be very open to offers, whether that is signing new players or trading players. We're speaking daily, every few minutes, with other GMs, about opportunities. We're open to it, but what I don't want to do is make any knee-jerk reactions. We built success with stability [and] continuity as our drivers.”
Now is not the time for rash decisions, he says.
“We don't need to rebuild,” emphasized Bezbatchenko. “Everyone in this building believes we can make the playoffs. We're not packing it in by any means. We owe it to the fans to fight until the very last day. At the end of a 34-game regular season, we'll see where we stand.”
“This team can win in this league,” added Bezbatchenko. “We won the treble last year; we didn't just get bad overnight.”
One of the many matters on his plate involves the future of Jonathan Osorio, who is in the final year of his contract. A new deal or a move abroad are both on the table.
“We're in regular touch with his representative: talking terms, what Jonathan means to the club, both from his perspective and ours,” confirmed Bezbatchenko. “He's a very unique player. One of the first guys homegrown from this market and is committed to the club.”
“We want to make sure that we value that; that he's valued,” added Bezbatchenko. “All of those things are in the conversation. There are a lot of clubs that are interested in him, both south and over in Europe. We want to make sure he feels respected for the player that he is.”
What has happened in the three months since those heady days of April, when TFC were at the pinnacle of North American club competition, sparks one word in Bezbatchenko's mind: “Curious.”
“I want to get to the bottom and figure out how we can compete in multiple competitions,” said Bezbatchenko. “It has been an emotional roller coaster for everyone, trying to figure out how to retain top form.”
“No team has ever done what we did in CCL: the number of games, the number at altitude,” added Bezbatchenko. With the reformatted competition, Toronto's knockout path was eight matches, rather than the six in previous years. “And the closest team that has, over 30 months of playing, is Seattle [Sounders FC] and they're in the identical situation.”
With 15 league matches remaining to alter their fate, Bezbatchenko was certain of one thing: “Everyone is up for the challenge.”