Currently, nations such as Japan, Liechtenstein, Norway and Panama – as well as Canada and the United States – are represented on the Reds’ roster. Notably, top scorer Sebastian Giovinco (from Italy), midfielder Victor Vazquez (Spain) and defender Chris Mavinga (France) are key starters for TFC, proving that linguistic and cultural differences needn’t be a barrier to success on a team where English is the predominant language spoken.
It is interesting to note, though, that Toronto is one of just three teams in Major League Soccer without a single South American player on its squad. Brazilian wingback Jackson featured for TFC for two seasons before he was released at the end of the 2015 campaign. Since then, the club hasn’t signed any South American players.
One of the game’s genuine geographic hotbeds, South America exports more soccer players than any other continent in the world, and MLS outfits have taken full advantage. Both Montreal and Vancouver have built their teams around South American players in recent years. The Impact’s chief playmaker is Argentina’s Ignacio Piatti, and he has three countrymen for teammates. The Whitecaps also have a healthy South American contingent, featuring Colombian forward Fredy Montero (on loan), Argentine midfielder Matias Laba, and a pair of Uruguayans in Nicolas Mezquida and Cristian Techera. Chile’s Pedro Morales was a star and captain for the Whitecaps for three years before parting ways at the end of last year.
Toronto FC has featured South Americans in the past, and it’s safe to say they’re not discriminating against players from that part of the world – really, why on earth would they when you consider the wealth of talent the continent produces?
Still, it does raise the question: What’s up with TFC not having any South Americans?
It’s not for a lack of trying, explained Tim Bezbatchenko, who has taken a number of scouting trips to the continent during his tenure as general manager.
“We’re certainly not discriminating against South America. It is obviously well respected and one of the best football geographic areas in the world. We go down quite a bit, between myself and our scouting team,” Bezbatchenko said.
Part of the issue for Toronto is roster space. At the moment, TFC is using all three of its Designated Player spots, and often times MLS clubs have to spend big money and use a DP slot to sign South Americans.
“Some of it is budget, [some of it] depends on the slots. We haven’t had a designated player slot open for a while now, and the prices have risen for some of the top talent in places like Argentina and Brazil. [TFC’s lack of South Americans] is just a reflection of where we are in our roster building,” Toronto’s GM explained.
When right wingback Steven Beitashour picked up a long-term injury in late June, TFC immediately brought in Brazilian Raul on trial. The 20-year-old defender, who plays for Gremio in his native Brazil, was given a long look by the MLS club before returning home. Coach Greg Vanney said even though the Reds didn’t sign Raul that they will continue to monitor him from afar.
“We’ve had [South American] players that we’ve spoken to. We’ve had players that we have gotten into deeper conversations with from down there, but sometimes just getting a deal to pull together in the end takes more than that. We just haven’t been able to cross the line with some of the guys that we’ve been in conversation with,” Vanney stated.
“There’s been guys who are actually in the league now [with other teams] who we looked at before they arrived, and for one reason or another at the time we just couldn’t get the deal done in the way that made sense for us.”
A veteran of 13 MLS seasons, Toronto defender Drew Moor has witnessed first-hand the influence of South American players in MLS. He previously played with David Ferreira at FC Dallas, where the Colombian was named league MVP in 2010. Moor also counted Argentine star Claudio Lopez as a teammate during their time together with the Colorado Rapids.
While saying that “ultimately, it doesn’t really matter where you get players from,” Moor does believe that South American players tend to bring more entertainment value to the league.
“We’ve had some Americans come here and been huge for MLS. David Ferreira was MVP. Diego Valeri [currently with the Portland Timbers], Ignacio Piatti – they’re just exciting to watch,” Moor said.
“Ferreira was a lot like a Victor Vazquez, a guy who you expect no matter what situation he in that he’s going to find the pass, he’s going to get an assist, and he’ll score. He’s going to do something positive with the ball, and David was exactly like that. David had so much confidence and talent on the field like few others in this league.”