TFC locker-cleanout day: Reds lose Edwards in expansion draft

Greg Vanney and Michael Bradley explain why after capturing the MLS Cup it will take even more hard work from Toronto FC to stay on top of the league.

TORONTO — Locker-cleanout day for Toronto FC has historically had a sombre tone to it.

All 10 times, each year from 2007 to 2016, players have talked in hushed tones and with bowed heads, the feelings of failing to qualify for the post-season or losing in the playoffs still too fresh, too raw.

This year’s locker-cleanout day was much different as the Reds finally had an MLS Cup title to brag about, following their 2-0 win over the Seattle Sounders on Saturday.

Fresh off Monday’s parade and rally at Nathan Philips Square in front of thousands of celebrating fans, TFC players, coaches and staff addressed local media one last time on Tuesday.

Here are the highlights from the 2017 TFC locker-cleanout day:

TFC LOSES EDWARDS IN EXPANSION DRAFT

Toronto FC didn’t make it out of Tuesday’s Major League Soccer expansion draft unscathed. Los Angeles Football Club added five players to their roster ahead of their inaugural 2018 season, and selected Canadian midfielder Raheem Edwards.

LAFC then traded Edwards and Jukka Raitala, another player they picked in the expansion draft, to the Montreal Impact in exchange for Belgian defender Laurent Ciman.

A 22-year-old native of Mississauga, Ont., Edwards debuted for the Reds last year after spending some time with the TFC academy. He made 21 regular-season appearances in 2017, 10 as a starter, and scored one goal. Edwards made one appearance in the playoffs.

Edwards, who made his national team debut for Canada this year, is considered one of the league’s brightest attacking prospects, so it hardly came as a surprise that LAFC took him, and that Montreal then traded for him.

LAFC was allowed to pick only one player from a club. Approximately 309 players were available for selection.

Teams could protect up to 11 players. Here’s who TFC left unprotected for the draft, in addition to Edwards: Steven Beitashour, Drew Moor, Armando Cooper, Benoit Cheyrou, Oyvind Alseth, Brandon Aubrey, Tsubasa Endoh, Nicholas Hasler, Clint Irwin, Mark Pais and Tosaint Ricketts.

LAFC is coached by Bob Bradley, who is the father of Toronto captain Michael Bradley.

A SHORT OFF-SEASON

Coach Greg Vanney confirmed that pre-season camp for the 2018 campaign will begin between Jan. 20 and 22. The team will start in Toronto and then go to Los Angeles before returning home. The Reds then head to Mexico, where they have a number of exhibition games scheduled during their 10- or 11-day stay. The team has historically spent portions of its pre-season in Orlando, but won’t this year.

The Mexico trip was planned in order to help prepare the team for the CONCACAF Champions League. TFC will enter the continental tournament in the Round of 16, and will play the first leg of its home-and-away series between Feb. 20 and 22. The Reds will learn their opponents at next week’s Champions League draw in Miami.

FREE AGENT WATCH

Defenders Drew Moor, Steven Beitashour and Jason Hernandez are all eligible for unrestricted free agency. Moor said he has “full confidence that I’ll be back next year.”

Moor, 33, joined TFC as a free agent prior to the 2016 campaign and has been one of the Reds’ most reliable defenders in helping to quarterback one of the league’s best defences.

General manager Tim Bezbatchenko said he was hopeful of re-signing all three of his free agents.

“I’ve spoken to their agents and to them personally. And on some level, we want all of these guys back,” Bezbatchenko said. “We have to evaluate [the salary-cap situation] over the next few days, and sit down with Greg and make sure that we’re setting ourselves up to succeed in Champions League, which is our goal, but [also] for 2018 and 2019 [in MLS].”

BULK OF THE ROSTER WILL BE BACK

Bezbatchenko revealed that TFC is “extremely tight” up against the league’s salary cap, and that the club will have to shed some players ahead of next season in order to be roster compliant. But he expects there to be “very minimal, little turnover” in the roster, and that the majority of players will return.

“We want to keep as many players as we can. There’s very few players on our roster that we’re looking to release, or looking to move,” Bezbatchenko stated.

DECLINED CONTRACT OPTIONS

A number of players have not had their contract options picked up by TFC. Bezbatchenko said those names will be revealed in the coming days as he was still in the middle of having end-of-year interviews with each player on the roster. Even if the Reds do decline a player’s option, they can still renegotiate a new contract, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that player has been dropped by the team for good.

TARGETED ALLOCATION MONEY TO SPEND

MLS announced last week that its board of governors approved an increase in the amount of Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) available to each club. Following the 2017 season where each club received $1.2 million in TAM, all 23 MLS teams will continue to receive $1.2 million of TAM per year for 2018 and 2019.

MLS teams will also be able to spend up to an additional $2.8 million of TAM, on a discretionary basis funded by the team, each year in both 2018 and 2019.

TAM can be used to pay down the transfer cost and salary cap hit of players who would not be considered DPs. Toronto used TAM to sign Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez prior to this season. For any player earning up to $1.5 million, teams can also use TAM to pay down the salary cap hit to as low as $150,000.

This increase in TAM is good news for TFC, who boasted the highest payroll in MLS this season. Club president Bill Manning said the club plans to make use of the new TAM that is available, while Bezbatchenko already has a wish list of players. Although, he needs to talk to Vanney first about how they want to build the roster before making any big moves.

The club’s GM explained that adding to the team’s already impressive depth is a priority, especially considering the team’s CONCACAF Champions League commitments.

“Now, it’s about staying on top and that’s always more challenging,” Vanney said.

CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

No MLS side has ever won the CONCACAF Champions League – Mexican teams have won every tournament since the first in 2008-09. Only two MLS clubs have ever made it to the final: Real Salt Lake (2011) and the Montreal Impact (2015).

But Manning believes TFC is equipped to be competitive in next year’s tournament.

“I think this team is as strong as an MLS team that has ever played [in the Champions League] and I think this team will not have fear playing in CONCACAF. I think we can do something special,” Manning said.

Michael Bradley is already looking forward to playing in the continental competition, which begins several weeks before the MLS regular season kicks off in March.

“The opportunity to continue to play big games on all fronts is exciting,” Bradley stated. “To start the season next year knowing that right away we’ve got to be on top of things so that we are ready to go after Champions League in a really strong way.”

Manning confirmed that all of TFC’s Champions League games will be played at BMO Field.

ODDS AND ENDS

• Manning said TFC received a “very serious” trade offer on Sunday morning, but elected to turn it down.

• Bezbatchenko said that no team has recently contacted TFC to ask for permission to speak to assistant coach Robin Fraser. The Portland Timbers are one of several teams without a coach at the moment, and Fraser, who once served as coach of Chivas USA, is well respected across the league.

• Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez, who used to play at FC Barcelona, said he received a call from Pep Guardiola, his former manager at Barca, after Saturday’s MLS Cup to congratulate him on the win.

• Manning said he expects season ticket sales to jump to 25,000 next season, up from roughly 21,000 for this year.

The first decade of Toronto FC in the words of the players, coaches, executives and fans who built the franchise.

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