TFC Republic Weekly: January 22-28

Training camp in Florida rolls on as Toronto FC looks to get its house in order before the MLS regular season opener on Feb. 25.

TFC Republic Weekly: January 22-28

Welcome to the latest edition of TFC Republic Weekly, an email newsletter that will land in the inbox of both paid subscribers and free members of TFC Republic every Monday.

This newsletter will look at what's in store over the next seven days for Toronto FC, and also get a glimpse of what to expect at TFC Republic in the coming days.

So, without further ado...

Toronto FC's roster rebuild remains a work in progress

At the moment, 26 TFC players are contractually guaranteed for the 2024 season.

Keep in mind that the MLS roster limit is 30 players. Teams can only have 18-20 players on their senior team roster (players that count against the salary cap), while slots 21-30 make up the supplemental roster. With this in mind, GM Jason Hernandez is going to have to move some players out this off-season if he wants to rebuild the roster and make TFC a competitive side in 2024. 

Last week, Herdman described TFC's roster rebuild as "a work in progress." 

"We'll take around 28 [players to pre-season camp in Florida]. ... We've got a lot of work to do; cultural framework, tactical framework. I didn't want to be bringing 30, 40 players into a pre-season. We're not a championship team. We're exploring at the fringes; we really are resetting and starting again. I feel like that needs to be an intimate group. But the roster rebuild is ongoing, it's been a slow process, but hopefully things will start heating up in the next two weeks," Herdman told reporters. 

Hernandez assured fans last month that roster changes were coming, and that his goal was to have as many new recruits as possible in place just after mid-January. Thus far, TFC's only off-season additions have been Deybi Flores and top draft pick Tyrese Spicer

"There has to be movement, some level of movement before we can seriously bring players in. There's some [salary] cap realities where we're really trying to hit the bullseye. The level of scrutiny that's gone into every single player that's now arriving has gone up. We're working hard to make sure as we make a commitment [about] the right people; it's got to be the right people coming to this club," Herdman said. 

Reader mailbag: Will Toronto FC use its one player buyout?
If TFC is going to buy anybody out, and that’s still a very big if, it likely won’t happen until right before the start of the season.

Both Italian DPs part of team's player leadership group

The futures of Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi were hot topics of discussion all of last year, but especially since the end of the season when they’ve both been linked with moves to Serie A clubs. Bernardeschi also recently made public comments suggesting he wants to return to former outfit Juventus in January.    

The Italian DPs' attitudes, commitment and professionalism were also called into question during 2023 as sources told TFC Republic that both worked together behind the scenes to push for Bob Bradley’s removal. On the pitch they both failed to live up to their status as two of the highest paid players in the league by combining for a meagre 10 goals and 10 assists in MLS.  

Insigne and Bernardeschi have not been transformative DPs – they haven’t even been average DPs – and if Toronto has any chance of turning things around this year they have to start producing and playing like top-level stars.       

While stating that any player on TFC's roster could be sold or traded if the right offer came along, Herdman talked last week like a coach who expected both Italians to be part of his long-term plans for this coming season. He also revealed that Insigne and Bernardeschi are part of the team's player leadership group, which also includes Jonathan Osorio, Sean Johnson and Shane O'Neill. 

"Their behaviour, their communication, their posture, everything is showing they're committed, fully committed. ... They're showing a passion and commitment to these guys, and they've really taken on the leadership responsibility... They're leading," Herdman stated. 

Should the Italian DPs be a part of TFC’s leadership group?
Including them in his leadership group could be a masterstroke by John Herdman or completely blow up in his face. Time will tell.

Odds and ends

While top draft picks Tyrese Spicer (No. 1 overall, Lipscomb University) and Joey Maher (No. 30, Indiana) are in pre-season camp with Toronto, Patrick McDonald (No. 59, Indiana) and Fletcher Bank (No. 85, Stanford) have returned to school. Spicer is signed to a deal, but Maher is looking to earn an MLS contract. 

Forward Charlie Sharp, TFC's top pick from the 2023 MLS SuperDraft (No. 61), is also in camp and looking to make the first team. Sharp returned to Western Michigan for the 2023 season and ended up as the top scorer in NCAA men's soccer with 19 goals. Sharp was a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy which honours the top NCAA soccer player. 

John Herdman revealed last week that a new captain has been chosen and that the club will make a formal announcement very soon. The Reds' former captain, Michael Bradley, retired at the end of last season. 

Herdman noted that he expects midfielder Brandon Servania to be out until June. Servania, 24, underwent surgery last year after suffering a ruptured ACL of his left knee towards the end of last season. A native of Alabama, Servania had a goal and an assist in 28 league games (21 starts) in 2023 for Toronto.  

Herdman also confirmed that Greg Ranjitsingh will be back this season as one of the club's three goalkeepers, alongside Sean Johnson and Luka Gavran. TFC previously declined their contract option on Ranjitsingh for 2024. 

Redemption won’t come easy for Toronto FC in 2024
The players have a point to prove and are looking to redeem themselves under John Herdman after a macabre 2023 campaign.

TFC's pre-season schedule

TFC departed for Palm Beach, Florida last Tuesday and will train down there for the first leg of training camp. While in Florida, the Reds will play an exhibition match against Nashville SC on Feb. 2.  

The team then returns to Toronto after the Nashville match before heading to Santa Barbara, California on Feb. 8. for the second leg of pre-season. While there TFC will play the Columbus Crew (Feb. 10), Real Salt Lake (Feb. 14) and Los Angeles FC (Feb. 17). 

Toronto FC opens the 2024 MLS season on Feb. 25 against FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium. 

Important dates to remember

Major League Soccer will have two transfer windows during the 2024 season:

  • Primary transfer window:  Jan. 31 to April 23
  • Secondary transfer window: July 18 to August 14

During these windows MLS clubs can sign a player via a transfer under contract to another team. All in-season trades between MLS clubs must take place during these two windows.

The MLS roster compliance deadline is Feb. 23. That means all teams must be roster and budget compliant (be under the salary cap) by that date.

The roster free deadline for this season is Sept. 13, which means clubs must submit their final 30-man roster for the remainder of the regular season. Teams can't make any player trades or transfer signings after that deadline.



Stories to look out for at TFC Republic

Steven Beitashour recently announced his retirement, calling time on his career after 14 MLS seasons, including a two-year spell with Toronto FC. I recently chatted one-on-one with Beitashour about his decision to hang up his cleats, what's next for him, being a part of TFC's treble-winning side in 2017 and much more. Look for my in-depth story in the coming days. 

Other stories that will be published later this week include:     

  • My random thoughts column on Toronto FC.   
  • My feature story on Jonathan Osorio.
  • My story with an update from John Herdman from pre-season camp.
  • My profile piece on TFC newcomer Deybi Flores.
  • The latest instalment of our "TFC flashback" history series.  
  • The latest instalment of the reader mailbag. 
  • And much more! 

TFC Republic mailbag

TFC Republic will feature a regular reader mailbag column where I answer questions from subscribers about Toronto FC and Canadian soccer in general.

I'll answer the best questions submitted to me by TFC Republic readers, so feel free to drop me an email at jmo1897@gmail.com. You can also reach out to me via Twitter.

(Top photo courtesy of Toronto FC)


TFC Republic has a comments section! At the very bottom of every story, there is a feature where you can post your comments, so be sure to share your thoughts and views.