Toronto FC acquires Haiti international Derrick Etienne Jr. in deal with Atlanta

Atlanta United's Derrick Etienne Jr. (18) runs during the first half of an MLS soccer match against DC United, Saturday, June 10, 2023, in Atlanta. (Stew Milne/AP)

Toronto FC, pivoting after a deal for an overseas player fell through, added to its attack Wednesday by acquiring Haiti international winger Derrick Etienne Jr. from Atlanta United FC in exchange for up to US$375,000 in general allocation money.

Some US$175,000 of the allocation money in the deal is conditional on certain performance-based metrics.

Toronto general manager Jason Hernandez said the MLS club had been looking for a centre forward but reframed its search because of the recent goal-scoring prowess of German forward Prince Owusu, with four goals in his last five outings, and injuries elsewhere.

“The reality is we had a couple of conversations that were all happening at the same time,” said Hernandez.

That included coming close to acquiring a player from outside of MLS. But the player in question was still under contract, meaning the other club had a say in the matter.

“Unfortunately we ended at a place where we couldn’t secure someone that we were down the line with,” Hernandez said. “And we had a keen understanding that Atlanta was interested in doing a deal for (Etienne). They were interested in doing a deal whereby we feel we would get great value as far as our salary cap considerations.”

The Etienne deal was finalized Tuesday before the MLS primary transfer window closed at 11:59 p.m.

Etienne made US$676,250 last season, according to the MLS Players Association. But he will only count the senior minimum charge (US$89,716) against the Toronto salary cap with Atlanta covering half of his salary in 2026, according to a TFC spokesperson.

Etienne, an eight-year MLS veteran who was scheduled to arrive in Toronto later Wednesday, has 17 goals and 19 assists over 171 regular-season appearances, including 89 starts, with the New York Red Bulls, FC Cincinnati (on loan during the 2019 season), Columbus Crew and Atlanta.

He won the Supporters’ Shield with the Red Bulls in 2018 and the MLS Cup and Campeones Cup with Columbus in 2020 and 2021, respectively. 

But Etienne has appeared in just two league games for Atlanta this season, logging 25 minutes off the bench.

“This is a mutually beneficial trade that provides us flexibility to potentially strengthen the roster in the summer, while giving Derrick a fresh start in Toronto,” Carlos Bocanegra, Atlanta’s vice-president and technical director, said in a statement.

Hernandez says Etienne gives the Toronto options at wide forward, attacking midfielder and wingback with the team looking to manage the minutes of Italian star Lorenzo Insigne, who is currently sidelined by  a hamstring issue, and knowing that captain Jonathan Osorio will be away with Canada for a spell this summer.

“I think he can give us some real impact whether it’s starting or being an impactful substitute that comes on to change a game for us,” Hernandez said.

The hope is Etienne could be available for Saturday’s game in Orlando.

Hernandez said earlier in the week that the club was looking to move a player out. That could still happen.

“There is a world in which there maybe one or two folks that you guys have been seeing around our group that may not be around our group by this time next week.”

Born in Richmond, Va., the 27-year-old Etienne is the son of former Haiti international Derrick Etienne.

He joined the Red Bulls academy as an under-14 player and signed a homegrown player contract in December 2015, making his MLS debut against D.C. United in September 2016.

At the international level, Etienne has eight goals and seven assists in 41 appearances for Haiti since making his senior debut against French Guiana in a Caribbean Cup qualifier in November 2016. Etienne also previously represented Haiti at the youth level, featuring at the 2013 CONCACAF U-17 Championship in Panama and 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Jamaica.

Toronto (4-4-1) stands fifth in the Eastern Conference.

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