TFC turns attention to draft after busy week

Kyle Bekker, right, in action for Toronto FC. (Peter McCabe/CP)

What a whirlwind of a week it’s been for Toronto FC.

Having already signed Brazilian forward Gilberto to a designated player contract and welcomed back former captain Dwayne De Rosario, TFC continued its off-season rebuilding project on Monday when they announced the signing of two more DPs in English forward Jermain Defoe and American midfielder Michael Bradley.

But the week isn’t over, and more players will likely be added to the Reds’ burgeoning roster during Thursday’s Major League Soccer SuperDraft in Philadelphia. Toronto has the 15th and 24th overall picks.

What will TFC be looking to do? Fill roster holes, specifically, adding a bit more depth to its defence. But there’s more on their draft agenda than finding reinforcements to play in a back line anchored by captain and central defender Steven Caldwell.

"Frankly, depending on who’s available, you can get either back-ups in certain positions or you can fill holes (in your starting lineup). When you look at the defence, we have a good back line but we can always supplement it with a player," TFC general manager Timothy Bezbatchenko told Sportsnet.

"(Drafting) someone to support Gilberto and Jermain Defoe could be a (possibility). You look at who’s the best (player) available and then you make a decision, whether or not it’s someone you can fit into your roster."

One player that Toronto could be interested in is defender AJ Cochran from the University of Wisconsin. Cochran was a junior First Team All-American with the Badgers, and is very strong in the air. He also has the added bonus of being a Generation adidas player, which means he won’t count against the league’s salary cap.

"You get salary cap relief for up to three years, so you have to take that into consideration. Is that the only factor? Absolutely not. You look at the player’s skills, your needs. When you interview the player you see if he’ll be a good fit with your locker-room. But Generation adidas is definitely a factor," Bezbatchenko stated.

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Last year, TFC was a major player at the draft, dealing away the No. 1 overall pick to New England the day before and then making a series of trades on draft day before ending up picking second and 16th overall.

This year, Toronto doesn’t figure to be a big mover and shaker with just one first-round pick and a second rounder. Vancouver acquired Toronto’s original first-round pick (third overall) as part of the Eric Hassli trade in 2012, and the Reds only picked up a first-round selection last month via a swap with the New York Red Bulls for Bobby Convey.

At the 2013 draft in Indianapolis, TFC ended up selecting a pair of Canadians in midfielder Kyle Bekker and forward Emery Welshman. Neither player made much of an impact during the regular season—Welshman only played five minutes, while Bekker appeared in nine matches, although he did show promise during his limited opportunities.

Even though Toronto is picking 15th, Bezbatchenko believes this draft is deep with players who can help the Reds, be it in the short- or long-term.

"We have a list of players. We now know what our holes are and we’re really excited about this draft and picking up another player or two," Bezbatchenko said.

"(The draft) is always deep in the sense that you have players who have played in college for four years and have experience. So you expect to get at least one starter from the draft, and that’s what we’re looking to do."

With each passing year, the draft becomes less and less important, thanks to the league’s homegrown player rule, which allows MLS teams to sign players from their youth systems and directly add them to their senior teams. Teams can sign as many homegrown players they want per year, with two of them not counting against the salary cap. As a result, more and more MLS clubs are investing heavily in their youth academies.

But Bezbetchenko doesn’t think the MLS draft will become obsolete anytime soon.

"The draft is an integral part of (putting together) a roster in MLS. If you look at the league, roughly two-thirds of the players played in college or came through the draft. Traditionally, that is how you build a successful franchise," TFC’s GM offered.

"The college game is still important, and will always be an important developmental place for players. You can’t deny that with the homegrown system that (the draft) becomes less important because players can circumvent it. But you have to focus on both if you build a successful team."

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