TORONTO – Ali Curtis has a lot on his plate these days.
Curtis, a 40-year-old native of Philadelphia, has hit the ground running ever since being named Toronto FC general manager on Jan. 4.
Since taking over from Tim Bezbatchenko, Curtis has seen TFC sell top scorer Sebastian Giovinco and chief playmaker Victor Vazquez, trade defender Nick Hagglund, and send fullback Gregory van der Wiel home from training camp in California after an altercation with coach Greg Vanney with an eye towards moving the Dutchman to another club.
All of this has unfolded as TFC prepares to compete on two fronts. The Reds travel to Panama for next Tuesday’s Concacaf Champions League round-of-16 match against Club Atletico Independiente de la Chorrera. The second leg is slated for Feb. 26 at BMO Field. Toronto then kicks off its 2019 MLS regular season on the road against the Philadelphia Union on March 2.
The departures of Giovinco and Vazquez leave two gaping holes in TFC’s roster, holes that Curtis is trying to fill as the MLS season draws closer. The club has set the bar at a high level in terms of finding replacements. In an interview with Prime Time Sports in the aftermath of the Giovinco transfer, TFC president Bill Manning promised the club would be making “significant” player signings.
Toronto has been linked with a number of players from abroad, including Spaniard Alejandro Pozuelo, a playmaker with Belgian club Genk, and Algerian midfielder Sofiane Hanni, currently at Spartak Moscow. There’s also been talk of a loan move for striker Jonathan Menendez from Argentine club Independiente.
Are new TFC recruits imminent? It was a question Sportsnet put directly to Curtis on Wednesday night during the club’s public event at the CN Tower to unveil its new home kit for the 2019 season. Curtis wouldn’t be drawn on specific names or timelines.
“I think we’re close. I think we’re close on a few things. … I would like to get a few more players in that we’ve identified, and we’re working tirelessly to make that happen. I’m hopeful that happens sooner rather than later. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen,” Curtis said.
Part of the problem in signing newcomers is that it’s not as simple as coming to terms with the player you’ve identified as a transfer target. There are a number of different issues involved, including dealing with agents, getting players out of their existing contracts, and the selling team changing their demands.
So, while TFC would love nothing more to bring in replacements for Giovinco and Vazquez before the start of the MLS season, Curtis explains that “we’re not in complete control of all the different variables that exist in the world of football,” and that patience is often required to get the deal done.
“We live in a universe right now where we want things yesterday. We try to approach our work with that in mind. Of course, we would like certain things to happen today, but we have to see how things unfold. In this business, some things are within your control … and then there are other things that are out of control. Sometimes those things happen very quickly and sometimes they take more time,” Curtis said.
Make no mistake about it, this will be a serious test of Curtis’ mettle as the new GM. He must be nimble and decisive in how he goes about replacing Giovinco and Vazquez, two key members of TFC’s treble-winning side from 2017.
But he maintains he’s not been too thrown off by all that has happened during his brief tenure, and fully recognizes that he has to work quickly in order to reset the team.
“Did I expect Giovinco to [leave]? No, I didn’t. [The same with] Victor or some of these other things and situations to occur. The one thing that you need to prepare for is that things happen unexpectedly, so how do you respond, how do you react … I feel very comfortable. I like to move fast anyway,” Curtis explained.
Part of the challenge in roster building, according to Curtis, is remaining “disciplined and savvy” in terms of how MLS teams approach player contracts in a salary cap system. The end-goal is to find overall balance – a roster that features different and complementary player profiles.
“There has to be balance. You don’t want too much of one thing,” Curtis offered.
“Having a diverse and balanced roster, where we have players of different categories, but also players of different experience, internationally as well as domestically, and guys who are in our backyard, it’s all important to have in our team.”
Curtis has been on the job for six weeks, but he’s hardly had time to settle into everyday life in Toronto. Other than his apartment, he’s only been to two other places in the city – TFC’s training facility and the CN Tower. A hectic travel schedule during this pre-season has meant that he’s not even had a chance to visit BMO Field. His wife only secured passports for his young daughter and son last week. The family is expected to come to Toronto for a visit very soon.
It’s a lot to deal with, but Curtis is not complaining. He’s even received sympathetic phone calls from other GMs from around the league.
“I’ve even spoken to other GMs who have called me and said, ‘Woah!’ [laughs] But that’s the nature of the game and the business. It’s kind of like scoring a goal. You’re moving very quickly, but when you’re in the box you have to show some composure and be calm in order to score,” Curtis said.