Toronto FC, an elite MLS club known for veteran talent and hefty spending, just got markedly younger – and perhaps more “dynamic” as well.
Days after selecting four players in the first two rounds of the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, Toronto FC inked three teenage Homegrowns this week – one of them the youngest first-team signing in club history, 15-year-old Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, and another the freshly-crowned 2019 Canadian Youth International Player of the Year, Jayden Nelson, 17.
The team that called on five regulars aged 30 or older in last year’s MLS Cup final now have five teenagers on their first-team roster, and 10 players under the age of 22. After dropping their squad’s average age by nearly a year from 2018 to 2019, that figure is on course to decline even further this season, especially if any of those draft picks catch on.
“We've really substantially changed the composition of our young player pool on the first team,” TFC GM Ali Curtis told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “All these players have the ability to make an impact. I think it's important that we’re measured and patient about that impact, and how things evolve, but it’s an exciting time.
“When you look at the composition of a roster, we have a very veteran and experienced team, and being able to ask young players to complement those guys adds a lot of life and energy and excitement to what's going on.”
History suggests the Reds will ease in their newcomers gradually via minutes at TFC II, with some of them having already logged ample time with the USL League One side. And Curtis noted this sudden stream of HGPs is “in large part … a byproduct of the investment that we've made in [player] development over the last 10 years” rather than some new pivot.
“It really doesn't signal an adjustment or a change in terms of how we're spending overall on the first team,” he said.
The club’s ambitions and expectations remain the same: Win trophies now.
“TFC will always be one of the top spenders in Major League Soccer,” vowed Curtis. “What we are fortunate to have above that is to be able to invest in all ways, in terms of Designated Players and all the other discretionary spend that you have the ability to invest in … as well as all the other ancillary spends in terms of sport science and performance and medical and scouting. We're going to do our best to succeed and perform and be a big club and be a successful club in this league. That will not stop.”
But as Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle and The Athletic’s Joshua Kloke recently detailed, it’s not only that Toronto have signed young domestic talent, but also the fact many of them might get a real chance this preseason to earn meaningful MLS minutes. Factor in the news about Michael Bradley’s lengthy layoff due to ankle surgery and the door opens that much more for the likes of Liam Fraser (21) and Noble Okello (19), both HGPs.
Curtis spoke of TFC being both “patient” and “aggressive” with their youngsters, and the technical staff may have decided they can be trusted with bigger roles without disrupting the battle-tested core that just nearly won an MLS Cup title. And there’s still a DP spot open should a big-time acquisition reach fruition in the coming weeks.
“I think there's probably one or two more moves that we have that will be made,” said Curtis, “but a big goal of ours was consistency, and to bring the core of the team back … We view consistency as a really important principle.”
In a related vein, Curtis did not sound like someone interested in parting with his team’s star striker as he addressed Herculez Gomez’s report of a falling-out with Jozy Altidore over the treatment of Bradley’s injury.
“Jozy is a big player and we're a big club, and there's always rumors and comments and everything else that gets put out there in the atmosphere,” said the former New York Red Bulls executive. “But it's literally day four or five of preseason, and we're just trying to get to work. We're just excited about trying to improve upon the 2019 season and everything else is secondary or tertiary. We’re not worried about it. It’s important that we stay focused.”