MLS Training Camp Storylines: What does future hold for TFC's Altidore, Soteldo?

Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore (17). (Vasha Hunt/AP)

After a relatively short hiatus, MLS clubs returned to work this past week with the official kick-off of pre-season training camps.

With the start of the 2022 regular season just over a month away, several teams will be under the gun as they have roster holes to fill and player moves to make before heading out onto the pitch.

All three MLS clubs in Canada, as well as two of the league’s top Canadian players, also face burning questions in training camp ahead of the start of the regular season on Feb. 26.

What will Toronto FC do about its DP situation?

The recent signing of Lorenzo Insigne means Toronto FC has four designated players, one over the league limit. TFC has until Insigne arrives in July to move one of their current three DPs in order to accommodate the Italian.

By all accounts Alejandro Pozuelo is safe. The Spanish midfielder, who was voted league MVP in 2020, will be out of contract at the end of this coming season. But he has openly talked about wanting to sign a new deal, and the club is keen to offer an extension to the talented playmaker.

That leaves either Jozy Altidore or Yeferson Soteldo making way for Insigne — or both. Sources told Sportsnet that TFC is attempting to buy out Altidore from his contract, while at the same time trying to offload Soteldo, either via transfer or a trade.

MLS teams are allowed one buyout per year, but it must happen before the start of the regular season in order to get salary cap relief. Clubs can still buy out a player once the season begins, but his entire salary would remain on the books. With the 2022 MLS campaign set to begin in just over a month, TFC doesn’t have much time left to buy out Altidore.

Can Vanni Sartini continue to inspire Vancouver Whitecaps?

The Whitecaps named Sartini their full-time head coach in November, rewarding the Italian for the incredible work he did during the second half of 2021.

Stuck in rut in late August and in real danger of missing the post-season, Vancouver fired Marc Dos Santos and replaced him with Sartini on an interim basis. The club immediately responded to the charismatic Italian, as he led it to a 7-2-5 record during the home stretch of the campaign, the second-best run in the Western Conference during that time. Thanks to the late-season surge under Sartini, the Whitecaps qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Now the challenge becomes much more difficult for Sartini, as he has a full MLS season ahead of him. Revitalizing the Whitecaps last year after Dos Santos’ exit was, in many ways, the easy part, as expectations were so low for Vancouver. This year, Sartini will be expected to duplicate the magic he wielded in 2021 and prove that the team’s amazing surge up the table wasn’t a one-off, but rather the start of something special in Vancouver.

Will the Concacaf Champions League affect CF Montreal’s MLS campaign?

Montreal doesn’t kick off its 2022 MLS season until Feb. 27 when it visits Orlando City. But Montreal will be in competitive action before that when they take on Mexican powerhouse Santos Laguna in a two-game aggregate series in the round of 16 of the Concacaf Champions League.

The first leg goes Feb. 15 at Estadio Corona before the Canadian club hosts the Mexican outfit at Olympic Stadium a week later. Should Montreal win the series, it’ll advance to the quarter-finals in March, and will most likely face another top Mexican club in Cruz Azul.

It’ll be interesting to see how Montreal navigates competing on two fronts at the same time — TFC’s involvement in the Champions League last year played a part in their MLS season going off the rails. But there’s more stability in Montreal than there was a year ago when Thierry Henry stepped down as coach just before training camp, with Wilfried Nancy set to enter his second full season in charge, and with a deep squad and plenty of options at most positions at his disposal.

How much longer will Alistair Johnston remain in MLS?

CF Montreal pulled off a major trade just before Christmas when they sent $1 million in allocation money to Nashville SC in exchange for Johnston. Part of the swap deal also includes Nashville receiving a percentage of any future transfer of the Canadian fullback. A potential sale of Johnston could come sooner than you think.

Johnston, a 23-year-old from Vancouver, was an up-and-coming defender during his first two seasons in MLS after being selected 11th overall in the 2022 draft by Nashville. He’ll be expected to fill a much bigger role now that he’s moved north of the border — namely, to anchor the defence and help Montreal get back to the MLS playoffs for the first time in two years.

Although still early on in his pro career, Johnston has established himself as one of the league’s most promising players — so much so that several European clubs were believed to be monitoring his progress in MLS before he was traded to Montreal. The general consensus seems to be that it’s only a matter of time before the Canadian defender will earn a transfer move across the pond. A solid 2022 campaign with Montreal could speed things up.

Can Lucas Cavallini finally come good for Vancouver?

When Cavallini arrived in Vancouver via transfer from Mexican club Puebla ahead of the 2020 MLS season, the hope was the Canadian international striker would be the main reference point in attack for the Whitecaps.

Thus far, it hasn’t worked out that way, and it’s fair to say he hasn’t lived up to his Designated Player status. Cavallini has been dogged by injuries and long bouts of inconsistent form, as he has scored just nine goals in 39 league appearances (and averaged one goal every 298 minutes) over his first two seasons in Vancouver.

During his time off due to injury in 2021, the Whitecaps fired head coach Marc Dos Santos and replaced him with interim boss Vanni Sartini. In Cavallini’s absence, Brian White went on a scoring tear during the second half of the season under the Italian coach, and ended up finishing as Vancouver’s top scorer with 12 goals. By the time Cavallini returned from his knee injury, he had lost his place as a starter to White.

Cavallini, a 29-year-old from Toronto, is under contract for 2022, with an option for an additional year. By all accounts, he’s keen to stay in Vancouver, but if the Whitecaps are to sign him to an extension, he has to start producing on a regular basis.

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found here.

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