For Toronto FC, timing is everything—both on the pitch, and in the boardroom.
The Major League Soccer club is expected to officially announce the signings of former captain Dwayne De Rosario on Thursday, and English forward Jermain Defoe next Monday, multiple sources told Sportsnet.
The timing could not be more strategic on the part of TFC, who on Tuesday sent out renewal notices via email to their season-ticket holders. Fans have until the end of January to renew their tickets, and the MLS club is hoping the arrivals of De Rosario and Defoe will convince their long-suffering fans to reinvest their faith—not to mention their money.
“A new, winning tradition begins this season for Toronto FC and the most important thing to us is that you are there to share it with us,” general manager Tim Bezbatchenko wrote in the email. “We hope that you believe in our direction based on the moves that have been made and are still to come and that you will be there with us again this season.”
TFC fans are usually sent ticket renewals in October, but Tim Leiweke purposely pushed back the renewal deadline date to January 31. A few months after taking over as CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Leiweke insisted that the team had to win back supporters’ trust by signing new players and rebuilding its roster in the off-season before hitting up fans to renew their season tickets.
The arrivals of De Rosario and Defoe come on the heels of TFC signing Brazilian forward Gilberto, 24, to a DP contract last month. The club also recently traded for two MLS experienced players in Brazilian midfielder Jackson and defender Justin Morrow.
“Every move we’ve made this off-season has been made with our promise to you in mind,” Bezbatchenko wrote in Tuesday’s email.
De Rosario, 35, parted ways with former club D.C. United at the end of the 2013 campaign. He was selected by TFC in last month’s MLS re-entry draft but still had to agree to terms with the Reds.
Defoe, 31, is currently under contract to Tottenham but TFC have been pursuing the English forward for several months—Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen even visited Tottenham on a scouting trip with Bezbatchenko and Leiweke in the off-season—and have been negotiating over transfer with the Premier League club. Nelsen played for Tottenham for a brief spell before retiring last January, and was teammates with Defoe during his time with the London-based club.
After stumbling to second-last place in the 19-team MLS standings with a 6-17-11 record in 2013, TFC said it wanted to sign two designated player strikers ahead of the 2014 campaign. Scoring was a major problem for the Reds, as they managed only 30 goals in 34 games – tied for the second-worst offence in MLS.
While the jury is still out on Gilberto, Defoe has a track record as a proven goalscorer in one of the top leagues in the world, and has 19 goals in 54 appearances for the English national team. But he has fallen down the depth chart at Spurs this season since the arrival of Roberto Soldado, as he’s been limited to just three starts in the Premier League, with nine appearances as a substitute.
Defoe has played regularly for Spurs in the UEFA Europa League, though, and recently became the club’s all-time leading scorer in Europe with 23 career goals. All nine of Defoe’s goals this season have come in either the Europa League or the Capital One Cup.
Despite a somewhat lacklustre 2013, De Rosario still boasts an impressive resume, and should help a Toronto side that needs more scoring and midfield creativity.
The Canadian international established himself as the Reds’ all-time leading scorer with 32 goals in all competitions during his first stint with the team from 2009 to 2011. He also ranks sixth on the all-time MLS scoring list with 103 goals.
De Rosario has won the MLS scoring title and was named league MVP in 2011, has been selected to the league's Best XI six times during his career and won the MLS Cup in 2001 and 2003 with San Jose and 2006 and 2007 with Houston, earning MLS Cup MVP honours in 2001 and 2007.
Toronto FC opens the 2014 MLS season on March 15 away to the Seattle Sounders.