When Minnesota United acquired forward Kei Kamara from the Colorado Rapids, then immediately put him in the starting lineup while leaving Mason Toye as an unused sub for each of the last two games, the writing was on the wall: Toye's time in Minnesota was coming to an end.
This season wasn't supposed to go down like this for Toye.
The forward helped spark the Loons' attack in the second half of 2019, bursting onto the scene with six goals and three assists across 820 regular-season minutes in his first consistent professional action. Such was his form that it catapulted him straight into the United States U-23 squad. But a late-season goal drought ultimately cost him his place in the Minnesota lineup as the club made their Audi MLS Cup Playoffs debut. He wanted to take the next step in 2020, but never took hold of the starting spot.
Luis Amarilla was acquired in the offseason, starting the club's first two games of the season, where Toye was an unused substitute. An injury to Amarilla opened up a run of starts for Toye that immediately stopped once Kamara was acquired.
Toye approached Minnesota last week to say if another club wanted to give him more games, he'd like to take that opportunity.
“Mason has been a bit frustrated of late," head coach Adrian Heath told reporters on a virtual press conference Thursday. "As most people should think as strikers, he thought he should be the No. 1 starting forward for us. We had a slight difference of opinion on that."
With that slight difference of opinion came the end of Toye's time in Minnesota, within two weeks of Kamara's acquisition. Toye was traded to the Montreal Impact on Thursday in exchange for $600,000 General Allocation Money and a 2021 MLS SuperDraft second-round selection, where he will unite with childhood hero Thierry Henry.
Montreal was one of many clubs to express interest in Toye, but Heath said their offer was the best "by far."
Watch: Toye goal highlights
“He has two years left on his contract, I think it’s no secret that he wants to go abroad at the end of that," Heath said. "If we couldn’t guarantee him the starting No. 9 position, we had to weigh all that up. I do wish him all the best. He wants to do well, he works so hard."
Heath acknowledges that the decision to let go of a 21-year-old striker with obvious potential could face even greater scrutiny in the months and years to come.
“I’m fully aware what will come back to me if in a year or two Mason is flourishing and scoring plenty of goals," Heath added.
Even after the trade of Toye, Minnesota have some big decisions to make for the future of the squad.
In the immediate, Minnesota are talking with clubs over the potential loan of Young Designated Player Thomas Chacon. The 20-year-old Uruguayan youth international has played just 257 MLS minutes since joining Minnesota last August from Uruguay. Heath said the club are "pursuing" a loan for Chacon before transfer windows soon close in South America and Europe.
By the end of the year, they'll also have to decide whether to permanently acquire Amarilla. The Paraguayan is in Minnesota on a one-year loan with a purchase option. There is no word on what the transfer fee would be or whether he'd require a DP slot to remain with the club. If he falls below the DP threshold, the $600k GAM returned in the Toye trade would go a long way into helping fit him under the cap.
Amarilla has missed the last six Loons matches through injury and it's unclear when he'll return. Heath said the club are figuring out whether he'll be able to get back on the field soon or if he'll require season-ending surgery, further complicating the matter.
Regardless, Minnesota are focused on challenging at the top of MLS. And doing so now.
“When we have everybody fit and healthy, this team can compete with anybody," Heath said. "We think we can win. If that means winning now, yeah. We proved in Orlando, we proved when we play any of the top teams, we’re a good match.”
Just as with the trade of Toye, time will tell.