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...
Does Federico Bernardeschi want to leave Toronto FC?
Federico Bernardeschi made some headlines last week when speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport. TFC's Designated Player talked about his time in MLS thus far and the difficult season the Reds suffered through in 2023.
“It was not like everyone expected, starting from the club. We have had many difficulties, there have been changes of coaches and probably it was the wrong project,” Bernardeschi told the Italian sports daily.
Bernardeschi has previously been linked with moves to teams from abroad while with TFC, most recently with former club Juventus. In the same La Gazzetta dello Sport article, the Italian international seemed to hint that he'd be open to returning to his former employer. But that's not what he said at this month's end-season media availability when he reaffirmed he wanted to be a part of the solution at TFC and wanted to remain at the club.
“I’m here. For sure I want to be here. For sure,” Bernardeschi stated.
Maybe deep down Bernardeschi does want to leave Toronto and return to Italy. Such a move won't be easy, though, as he is under contract to TFC through the end of the 2026 season. MLS clubs are allowed to buy out one player per year and receive the associated salary cap relief. But it's unrealistic to think the Reds will use their buyout on Bernardeschi. Not only would it be an expensive proposition in light of his wages, but it'd also be a major PR black eye for the club – a public admission that they got it wrong after going to great lengths to sign the Italian international in the first place.
It also seems unlikely Bernardeschi would walk away from his $6,295,381 US salary that made him the fifth-highest paid player in MLS in 2023. He's not going to get a similar contract playing in Europe, so he'd be leaving a lot of money on the table if he left Toronto.
Given his wages and lack of production this season (five goals in 33 games in all competitions), it's unlikely TFC could find a trade partner within the league. Terminating his contract by mutual consent is a viable option, but again, would Bernardeschi walk away from such a lucrative contract?
If the Italian is true to his word and genuinely wants to be in Toronto, then he has to start showing some genuine leadership and producing on the pitch. If he wants to leave, then TFC has to find a creative way to shed his big contract.
CanWNT vs. Australia on Friday
It’s the last dance for Christine Sinclair.
Last week, Canadian women’s team coach Bev Priestman announced her 25-player roster for an upcoming pair of friendlies vs. Australia and included in her list is Sinclair who previously announced her plans to retire from international soccer at the end of this year.
Canada will play Australia on Dec. 1 at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C. and Vancouver’s BC Place on Dec. 5.
Sinclair, a 40-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., has competed in six World Cups and four Olympics for Canada, and she is also the all-time top scorer in international soccer, for both men and women, with 190 goals in 329 games. She plans to play one more year for her pro club, the Portland Thorns of the NWSL, before hanging up her cleats for good.
"It's going to be an emotional night," Priestman told reporters. "And I think we have to embrace that.
Also included in Priestman’s latest squad is Houston Dash midfielder Sophie Schmidt, who retired from the national team after this summer’s FIFA World Cup. Schmidt, 35, ranks second in all-time appearances for Canada with 224 caps. She will join the Canadian team after the match in Langford and play in her final international match in Vancouver. Canada Soccer will honour Schmidt and Sinclair, as well goalkeeper Erin McLeod as part of the festivities at BC Place. McLeod, 40, retired from the national team in January 2023 with 119 caps.
Canada is No. 10 in the current FIFA world rankings, one spot above Australia. The teams previously faced off at this summer’s FIFA World Cup where the Australians earned a 4-0 win in Melbourne to advance to the group stage of the tournament and eliminate the Canadians. Last year, Canada beat Australia in a two-game series by registering wins in Brisbane and Sydney.
The all-time series between the nations is tied at eight wins and three draws in 19 games since their first game against each other on Dec. 12, 1997. Canada has lost just three of the last 12 meetings (with seven wins).
Important off-season dates to remember
With TFC coming off their worst ever campaign, this off-season is going to be one of the most important in club history. Club management will have to make a series of moves in order to overhaul the roster and set things right for the 2024 season.
With this in mind, here are some important off-season dates to circle on your calendar.
Dec. 11 is when the MLS trade window opens up again after a three-month freeze. MLS clubs can start tweaking their rosters by making trades with other teams across the league.
The MLS year-end waivers process opens on Dec. 12 and runs until Dec. 14. The waiver process pertains to players whose options were not exercised and who are not eligible for free agency or the re-entry process. The waiver selection process is determined by the reverse order of the final standings in the 2023 MLS season, taking into account the playoffs. Once the end-of-year waivers process is over, players who have not been selected can be signed by any MLS team on a first-come, first-served basis.
MLS free agency opens on Dec. 13. There are a number of high-profile players across the league who are out of contract and free to sign with the other clubs. Players who are at least 24 years old and have at least five years of MLS service are eligible for free agency. Last year, TFC delved into the free agent pool by signing veteran centre back Matt Hedges and goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Will they go after more free agents this year? "The plan 100 per cent is to continue to utilize [the free agency lever," GM Jason Hernandez said. To read the full list of potential free agents this off-season, CLICK HERE.
The MLS re-entry process kicks off on Dec. 14 with stage 1, while stage 2 is scheduled for Dec. 21. The re-entry process is one of those convoluted MLS player mechanisms that every other league in the world doesn't use. Essentially, it applies to players who are out of contract (or had their option declined) and are not eligible for free agency. Instead, such players go into the re-entry process, where they are eligible to be selected by another MLS team. Last year, TFC selected Tomás Romero, and Víctor Vázquez. There's a lot more nuance to the league's re-entry process, so if you want to read more about it, CLICK HERE.
The MLS SuperDraft is on Dec. 19. TFC has the No. 1 overall pick, so it'll be interesting to see if they use the selection on a promising NCAA prospect or trade it away for a player or valuable assets.
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Stories to look out for at TFC Republic
The signing of fullback Kobe Franklin, a 20-year-old from Toronto, back in February looked to be nothing more than a depth signing by the Reds. It turned out to be much more than that as the youth academy graduate and former TFC 2 standout proved to be the senior team's breakout player of the 2023 MLS season. I recently chatted one-on-one with Franklin to talk about this and much more. Look for my feature story on Franklin in the coming days.
Other stories that will be published later this week include:
- My random thoughts column on Toronto FC.
- My feature on TFC goalkeeper Luka Gavran.
- My piece on Toronto FC's biggest priorities this off-season.
- In-depth pre- and post-game coverage of the Canadian women's team match vs. Australia on Friday.
- My column on the Canadian women's team.
- 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.
(Top photo courtesy of Lucas Kschischang/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.