Free agent, contract option decisions loom large for TFC

TFC Republic evaluates which players Toronto FC should re-sign and which ones it should allow to walk away this off-season.

Free agent, contract option decisions loom large for TFC
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Toronto FC faces some very interesting roster decisions going into what will be the most important off-season in franchise history. 

While 20 TFC players are contractually guaranteed for 2024, others are either out of contract or find themselves in the option year of their deals. Notably, three of the players in option years – Greg Ranjitsingh, Víctor Vázquez, C.J. Sapong – are eligible for unrestricted free agency now that the 2023 campaign is over. 

Just a reminder that unrestricted free agency applies to players who are 24 years old and have at least five MLS service years under their belts. They must also have had their contract options declined or be out of contract at the end of the 2023 MLS season. Such players will be eligible for unrestricted free agency and can negotiate a new contract with any MLS club, including their previous team. To read the full list of potential free agents this off-season, CLICK HERE

Here’s the list of TFC players who have a guaranteed contract for 2024: Ayo Akinola, Federico Bernardeschi, Latif Blessing, Adama Diomande, Kobe Franklin, Lorenzo Insigne, Sean Johnson, Deandre Kerr, Cassius Mailula, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Hugo Mbongue, Shane O’Neill, Jonathan Osorio, Prince Owusu, Jordan Perruzza, Raoul Petretta, Sigurd Rosted, Brandon Servania, Luke Singh and Kosi Thompson.

Akinola (San Jose Earthquakes) and Thompson (Lillestrøm SK) are currently on loan and those teams have the option to make them permanent signings.

Now, let's look at the players who could leave Toronto FC this off-season, and evaluate whether the club should re-sign them or allow them to walk away. 

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Víctor Vázquez: Option year in 2024 

Last December, Toronto FC signed Víctor Vázquez through 2023, with an option for 2024, after selecting him in the second stage of the 2022 MLS re-entry draft. 

Vázquez spent the previous two years with LA Galaxy, where he scored five goals and tallied 11 assists over 55 regular season and playoff games. But LA did not pick up its option on Vázquez, so he went into the MLS re-entry draft, a league mechanism that applies to players who are out of contract (or had their option declined), but are not eligible for free agency. 

The Spanish midfielder previously played two seasons with Toronto FC, joining the Reds ahead of the 2017 campaign. He recorded 18 goals and 28 assists in 65 appearances across all competitions for Toronto and was a key member of the side that won the MLS Cup, Canadian Championship and Supporters’ Shield during 2017.

He is rightly viewed by many as one of the most important players in club history. But Vázquez, 36, barely featured for TFC this season – he was limited to just 12 MLS appearances (three starts, 235 minutes), largely due to a heel injury.  

Vázquez earned $301,500 US in 2023. It's hard to justify that salary cap hit for a player whose best days are behind him and who'll turn 37 next January. Unless TFC can re-sign Vázquez to a new deal at a lower salary, it doesn't make sense to pick up his contract option. 

C.J. Sapong: Option year in 2024 

Don't expect to see Sapong back in Toronto next year. The veteran striker hasn't come close to living up to expectations since the trade with Nashville back in April that saw TFC give up promising defender Lukas MacNaughton and a guaranteed $125,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) in 2024, and up to $75,000 in conditional GAM in 2025. 

Sapong earned $616,667 US in 2023, but former coach Bob Bradley told TFC Republic at the time of the trade that Nashville was picking up a part of his salary for this season. Still, Sapong, who turns 35 in December, didn't provide value for his salary as he had just one goal and three shots on target in 20 MLS appearances (15 starts) for Toronto.  

It doesn't make sense to bring back Sapong even if TFC wanted to sign him to a new deal at a lower rate, especially as they have younger options in Prince Owusu (26) and Cassius Mailula (22) available.  

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Greg Ranjitsingh: Option year in 2024 

Last year, TFC signed Greg Ranjitsingh through 2023, with an option for 2024. The third-string goalkeeper didn't play a single minute of action in 2022 and only made his debut for the Reds on June 21, 2023, when both Sean Johnson and Tomás Romero were away on international duty. Ranjitsingh ended up playing in four MLS games (all of them losses) this season and failed to impress as he gave up 10 goals. 

Ranjitsingh, a 30-year-old native of Scarborough, Ont., earned $100,167 US in 2023, so it's fair to say he hasn't provided value for his contract. The late-season emergence of former TFC 2 goalkeeper Luka Gavran pushed Ranjitsingh even further down the depth chart. 

Given all of this, it's difficult to envision Toronto exercising its contract option on Ranjitsingh.  

Luka Gavran: Option year in 2024 

Toronto FC recently signed goalkeeper Luka Gavran through 2023, with options for 2024 and 2025.  

Gavran, 23, is younger and has a higher ceiling than Greg Ranjitsingh. He is also making a lot less ($70,827.00 US) than Ranjitsingh. 

The former TFC 2 shot stopper gave up 12 goals in his four MLS appearances (all losses), but that’s misleading because the youngster was mostly playing behind a makeshift back line. Gavran looked very solid in this short run of games, so much so that he backed up the returning Sean Johnson in the team’s season finale last weekend while Tomás Romero (the team’s No. 2 for most of this year) didn’t dress.  

This one is a no brainer. Gavran will be back with the MLS club next year.    

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Alonso Coello: Option year in 2024 

Speaking of no brainers, this is another one. 

Back in April, the Reds signed the Spanish midfielder to his first MLS contract, tying him to the club through 2023, with options for 2024 and 2025. Coello impressed in his rookie season after cutting his teeth with TFC 2, making 21 MLS appearances (13 starts) and competently deputizing for Michael Bradley in the centre of the park during the former captain’s lengthy injury layoff. 

Coello offered Toronto a strong, stable and intelligent presence in central midfield with his passing range and ability to break up opponents’ attacks. At 23, he hasn’t even hit his prime and can only get better over time. He’s one of the few players at TFC who can hold his head up after this dreadful season with his consistent form. And while it’s true he does take up a valuable international roster slot, because he’s part of the team’s supplemental roster (and not the senior roster), his $71,693,00 US salary doesn’t count against the salary cap. 

The Madrid native is one of TFC’s genuine young assets on the roster, so unless they can get a lot in return for him in a trade, look for the club to exercise his options and bring him back. 

Themi Antonoglou: Option year in 2024 

Like Coello, fullback Themi Antonoglou is on the supplemental roster, so he’s not taking up a senior team slot, nor does his $72,880.00 US contract count against the salary cap. 

Antonoglou played in 11 MLS games this year, up from the two matches he appeared in during the 2022 campaign. But the fullback spent most of this season on loan at TFC 2, and really wasn’t given much of an opportunity to earn regular minutes.   

By all accounts the 22-year-old has a great attitude, and he's a promising prospect who can only get better. He just needs minutes. Bringing him back is a no-risk move for the Reds.

Tomás Romero: Option year in 2024 

Toronto selected the former LAFC goalkeeper Tomás Romero in the first stage of the 2022 MLS re-entry draft last November. Romero played under Bob Bradley in LA, so the former TFC coach was eager to bring him in. He served as Sean Johnson’s backup for most of the campaign, starting in six MLS games.  

Romero, 22, looked uneven at times after making an excellent debut for the Reds in a 1-0 home loss to St. Louis City SC on July 8. Eventually, Luka Gavran took over the No. 2 goalkeeper position by the end of the year. If Romero does come back next year, he’ll have to beat out Gavran for the backup role in pre-season. 

A $125,000.00 US salary is a lot to spend on a prospective third-string goalkeeper, and it’s $25,000 more than what Greg Ranjitsingh earned as the team’s third choice ‘keeper this year. Still, it might make sense for TFC to exercise his contract so he could push Gavran for the backup role. 

Aimé Mabika: Option year in 2024 

TFC acquired centre back Aimé Mabika from Inter Miami CF right before the MLS primary transfer window closed in late April. In exchange, Toronto sent $100,000 in GAM in 2024 to Miami. As part of the trade, Miami also received up to an additional $100,000 in conditional GAM and retains a 25 per cent sell-on percentage for Mabika. 

Mabika, 25, started off in a strong fashion at TFC – at first appeared to be an upgrade on Lukas MacNaughton, who was dealt to Nashville SC in the same day as the trade with Miami. But Mabika dropped off a cliff after that and came under fire following a string of lacklustre performances both in MLS and Leagues Cup. 

His $93,569.00 US contract doesn’t count against the salary cap as he’s on the supplemental roster, so he does have that going for him. TFC might also be inclined to pick up his option given all the GAM it cost them to get him from Miami.   

Cristián Gutiérrez: Out of contract 

TFC picked up the Canadian-born left fullback off waivers from the Vancouver Whitecaps last March. A series of injuries and ailments limited the 26-year-old to just six MLS appearances totalling 244 minutes for Toronto, although he did show flashes of solid form when he did feature for the Reds. 

Gutiérrez didn't come close to providing value for his $267,500 US contract with the Whitecaps, but his cap hit was significantly less than that for TFC because they claimed him off waivers.  

Gutiérrez isn’t eligible for unrestricted free agency because he doesn’t have five years of MLS service. That gives TFC lots of leverage when it comes to renegotiating his deal. If Toronto can get him at a much lower rate than what his contract paid him this season, then locking him up for another few years wouldn’t be the worst move in the world. 

(Top photo courtesy of Lucas Kschischang/Toronto FC)

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