Toronto FC are in for a pivotal winter of decisions.
TFC have been one of the elite MLS clubs in the past half-decade, but in a league of parity, that can all sour quickly with a few ill-fated moves. It's hard to stay at the top in this league, something Toronto felt in 2018 when they missed the playoffs a year after a historic treble-winning season.
As of Tuesday, they will be embarking on a head coaching search for the first time since 2014 after club legend Greg Vanney decided to step away, while the ambitious club have another Designated Player spot available to bring in a difference-maker. They have added the likes of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco and Alejandro Pozuelo when given this opportunity in years prior.
At the same time, Toronto are returning a large chunk of their core from last season, headlined by MVP finalist Pozuelo.
"I’m excited about the opportunity and what’s in front of us," GM Ali Curtis told media on a virtual press conference Tuesday. "We’re a big club and we’ll be embarking on an offseason unlike any in the history of the club.”
Head coach search
Toronto's first priority is bringing in the successor to Vanney.
Whoever that coach will be, they'll have big expectations to live up to. Curtis and club president Bill Manning routinely referred to Toronto as a big club with trophy aspirations every single year, while Vanney is the club leader in all categories. Vanney's reign in Toronto was the third-longest active tenure in the league when it came to an end, sparking Manning's first coaching search in his time at the club.
“Right now both of my phones are on silent because they’ve been pinging with emails, texts, Whatsapp and those things," Curtis said.
Both Curtis and Manning were coy on revealing too many specifics of what they'll be seeking in their ideal candidate to ensure that whoever they interview isn't influenced.
One quality that isn't mandatory is experience within MLS.
“The MLS experience that Ali and myself have is a lot of MLS experience," Manning said. "We’re going to try and get the best coach possible, whether it’s international or domestic-based. … MLS experience isn’t a factor [in a new head coach] because [Ali and I] already have it.”
While the decision is all-important and won't be rushed, Toronto aim to have a head coach in place as soon as possible.
“The timeline is now," Curtis said. "With everything, in so many ways, it’s a now business. You try to do things as quickly as possible. With that being said, sometimes you’re not in complete control of the timeline. We’d want someone in place sooner rather than later.”
Next DP ... and maybe a Piatti return?
Outside the appointment of a new coach, Toronto FC's biggest roster decision is just how they'll fill their newly vacant Designated Player spot, which opened as the club declined Pablo Piatti's contract option.
Piatti joined TFC last winter from La Liga, adding four goals and four assists in 17 matches. The club appreciated his contributions, and spoke to his character, but felt it was necessary to decline his option so to open a DP spot. The door isn't closed on a possible return on a non-DP deal, though.
“Pablo was an important addition, he fit in very well," Manning said. "We won a lot more when he played, a lot of positives. Ali has had very good discussions with his agent. If we’re in a situation where we can have a new Designated Player in the team and Pablo, we’ll be better.”
“The conversations have been really good, they started probably a couple months ago," Curtis added. "We spoke a few days ago. Pablo is a fantastic human being, well-liked with his teammates. ... If we can bring back Pablo, then fantastic. Our cap and those challenges will give us ideas if that can be achieved.”
Watch: Pablo Piatti scores against Vancouver
With or without Piatti, Toronto will still have a number of stars in attack.
Altidore struggled with injuries in 2019 but homegrown striker Ayo Akinola broke out with increased minutes and has now earned his first call up to the US men's national team senior squad. Pozuelo was named to his second MLS Best XI in as many seasons in the league and is the favorite to win MVP.
Yet, insatiable as ever, Toronto may invest further in the attacking group.
“I’ll just speak direct: The initial focus is an attacking player," Curtis said of the vacant DP spot. "With that being said, you have to have an open mind with everything. Things change, we’re open-minded, but the gameplan is to get an attacking player.”