At Toronto FC’s annual season ending media availability at the MLS club’s training ground in north Toronto, player after player looked despondent as they were asked to reflect on the team’s shootout loss to Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup final before over 36,000 fans at BMO Field a mere 60 hours earlier.
But as players gave way to coach Greg Vanney and club executives, the mood in the room brightened noticeably to a more uplifting tone as discussion about the team’s significant achievements this season and its immediate future prevailed.
“This was a historic year for our club”, stated TFC GM Tim Bezbatchenko in his opening address. “We’ve made great strides since I started here and I’m proud of the players on the roster but also the people behind the scenes.”
TFC GM Tim Bezbatchenko
“This was the first year,” continued Bezbatchenko, “that we really grabbed the hearts of fans that stayed with us through the years and many others that never really experienced TFC. We created a shared experience in a positive way.”
“Players around the league who want to win will look toward Toronto as a destination club” – TFC GM Tim Bezbatchenko
Bezbatchenko noted that 1.5 million Canadian viewers watched the MLS Cup final on December 10 on TSN & RDS, significantly more than the US viewers who watched the MLS Championship game between Portland and Columbus last year.
“It’s evident we’re a club on the rise,” Bezbatchenko said. “Players around the league who want to win will look toward Toronto as a destination club.”
And wooing those players through free agency, trades or by other means of acquisition in the off-season becomes more effective when you have the resources to lure them.
“I think we’ll be in a better position this year than last in terms of salary cap space,” Bezbatchenko noted. “With the natural increase in the salary cap as well as the increase in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) that was just announced, and the expansion allocation we’ll receive, as well as some of the players we’ll not be bringing back, that all opens up some space.”
TFC currently has 19 players under contract in 2017 but discussions are ongoing with several players whose contract options were not picked up or are out of contract.
“We’re talking to (free agent) Will (Johnson) about returning. Benoit (Cheyrou) is someone we want to bring back, there are a lot of things we can do to discuss a new contract.”
President Bill Manning reiterated the notion that the club’s salary cap status is in a much better place than a year ago.
“We have some additional TAM money now that we’re going to use this off-season”, explained Manning, who only joined TFC late in the 2015 season.
“We’ve gone on a couple of scouting trips this year already. Tim was over in Europe and South America so there are some targets we’re going to look at.”
TFC President Bill Manning
Manning, Bezbatchenko and Vanney all agreed the core of the team will not change, but the addition of one or two key players is vital to the continued success of the club.
“We’re just starting to scratch the surface,” Vanney said. “We think we pushed the margins to win games. But we need to continue to create competition at all positions to improve. We may look at a different style of player to add to the midfield.”
“Winning is the number one priority,” stated Manning. “When you win and have a good product on the field, you sell more season seats, more sponsorships and more merchandise. It allows us to make DP (Designated Player) decisions, scout all over the world and we have the financial resources to do all that.”
“We’re going to be in a very good place business wise next year” – TFC President Bill Manning
When asked if the club would turn a profit this year, Manning said “We’re not there yet, but everything is going up. We had over 1500 paid (walk up) fans every single game. We had a seven digit increase in merchandise, food and beverage and sponsorships.”
“Toward mid-season,” continued Manning, “we started seeing new companies and next year we’ll see double digit growth in sponsorships so the business part will catch up. We’re going to be in a very good place business wise next year. That I don’t have a concern about at all, but it comes down to what you do on the field.”
Over the next few days and weeks, TFC’s front office will be busy assessing and evaluating players currently on its 2017 roster as well as players who are available through the various player movement mechanisms, from free agency to waivers to the re-entry draft, culminating with the MLS SuperDraft on Jan. 13.
For a franchise that followed an embarrassing first round playoff exit to Montreal just a year ago to being a missed penalty kick short of an MLS Cup title this season, Manning noted the club has come a long way but, he believes, “the best is yet to come”.