TORONTO — The off-season changes have begun at Toronto FC.
The MLS club has told striker Andrew Wiedeman and midfielder-defender Jeremy Hall that their contract options will not be picked up. Their future will likely be decided next month when the league holds its expansion and re-entry drafts.
Their existing deals run out at the end of the year.
"There’s a very very small chance that I’ll be back here but I would highly doubt it," said Wiedeman.
"I’m in the same situation," added Hall.
Wiedeman, 25, joined Toronto midway through the 2012 season in a trade with FC Dallas. He scored four goals in 36 regular-season games for Toronto.
Hall, 26, came over in a trade from Dallas before the 2012 season. He played 57 games for Toronto, scoring twice.
Both saw limited action this year, either due to injury or coach’s decision.
"Apparently 110 minutes over the course of a season isn’t enough to warrant getting your option picked up," Wiedeman said dryly.
The addition of designated players Jermain Defoe and Brazil’s Gilberto, as well as the acquisition of Luke Moore and Dominic Oduro, created a waiting list to play up front.
While Wiedeman and Hall saw action in just 10 league games between them this season, they were positive, well-liked TFC squad members. The two also worked tirelessly in the community for the club, be it marching in the Pride Parade or visiting the Hospital for Sick Children.
"I think Andrew and Jeremy are two top-notch individuals. Very good players and obviously great stewards for TFC, and just great people all around," GM Tim Bezbatchenko said in an interview last month.
"We’re trying to create a culture that’s based on family and outreach. We’re part of the community and it’s important that we have people representing the team and the club and giving back. And I think they’ve been shining examples of that. So nothing bad to say, only good things to say about these two people."
Soccer is a business, however.
Both players believe there will be other MLS possibilities. Wiedeman, who holds Irish and U.S. passports, is also having his agent look overseas.
Despite a frustrating 2014 season, they speak highly of the club and the city.
"I love Toronto," said Wiedeman. "It’s a top-notch city and I have nothing but fond memories of this place. And have made a lot of good friends, a lot of great people … definitely a place I’ll be coming back to in the future."
"It’s definitely one of the best places to play, from the facilities, the stadium, the fans," echoed Hall.
"I’ve met some awesome people outside of soccer that I’ll be in contact from years and years," he added.
The two players, who are close friends, say that’s part for the reason they have delayed their winter return to family in California (Wiedeman) and Florida (Hall).
"It’s sad to go," said Hall.
Both players look at Toronto’s 11-15-8 season and wonder what might have been.
"I definitely felt like the season was a bit of a letdown from a team standpoint because we should have done more than what we actually did," said Wiedeman.
Said Hall: "I still think we should have gotten into the playoffs with what we had and it’s a bit frustrating. I hope that they can get it just right here because if they do, this place will just be one of the best places to play."
There was a flying start to the season and Wiedeman said the team went into games with the belief it could win. But that changed with a mid-season funk that cost manager Ryan Nelsen and five assistant coaches their jobs.
Hall thought the timing of the managerial change was "weird" with new coach Greg Vanney facing back-to-back games with Philadelphia on short notice.
The two players were also surprised by comments from Vanney and Bezbatchenko that fitness under Nelsen was an issue, with overtraining a problem.
"I thought if anything we didn’t train hard enough under Nellie," said Wiedeman.
"I would have liked to train a little more," he added. "They always tried to keep us hungry, you know, for Saturdays which obviously made sense. But there’d be guys wanting to keep going, play another game and they’d kind of pull on the reins and say no, and make us go inside.
"I actually found training under Greg more demanding than under Nellie."
Hall agreed with Wiedeman, saying training sessions under Vanney left players "exhausted and tired but not in a bad way, in a good way like ‘Man, that was a great training, that was awesome."’
Wiedeman rejected the suggestion that Nelsen’s regime was unscientific, praising former fitness coach Adrian Lamb in particular.
"I can’t tell you why there were so many injuries. I don’t know, I’m not qualified to speak on that because I don’t have the degrees for it. I thought that Adrian was really really really really really class."
Hall, meanwhile, said he learned a lot from Nelsen as a coach.
Both have no issues with Defoe and the debate over his future with the club.
"I don’t think it was nearly as big of a distraction or an issue as it was made out to be in the media," said Wiedeman. "And I will say this dude’s getting a bad rap."
He recalled putting out a social media message recently about five or six from the team going to a Buffalo Bills game.
"Someone responded to me and said ‘This is the type of stuff that No. 18 needs to be doing,’ like getting involved in the community and doing all of that.
"I mean Jermain was good when he was here, man. And he was playing injured a lot of the time. I don’t think people really realized that. Then when he left, it just became this big saga when he went to go get treatment back in England. I don’t necessarily think he deserves the rap he’s getting."
Wiedeman recalls Defoe quizzing him about his sports hernia. "He was describing it (his injury) and I was like ‘That’s exactly all the same symptoms I had."
Defoe returned to England after that conversation to seek more medical help.
"He was very very humble. He came in, he kept his head down, he did his work," said Wiedeman. "He was a great guy around the locker-room."
Should Hall and Wiedeman not be taken in any of the post-season drafts, they could renegotiate their contracts and return to Toronto "but there’s a bunch of dominos that have to fall for us to even get to that point," Wiedeman said.
Hall said Toronto had told both players they would like them back if that happens. But the two could then explore other options.
Wiedeman, a five-year veteran who left the University of California early to enter the 2010 MLS SuperDraft as a Generation Adidas player, made US$70,500 this season according to the MLS Players Union. Hall, a six-year MLS veteran out of the University of Maryland, made US$115,000.
Those numbers could be low, however, since MLS clubs can use allocation money to pay down salaries listed under the cap.
Hall has played 115 MLS games for four teams while Wiedeman has played 44 games for two teams.