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...
22 TFC players under contract with Mabika returning
In case you missed it, Toronto FC announced last Friday that Aimé Mabika would return for the 2024 MLS season.
This was an interesting decision from TFC as the centre back was in the option year of the contract that he originally signed with Inter Miami. He had been in talks with Toronto about a new deal after the 2023 campaign was over, and new coach John Herdman obviously saw enough from the 25-year-old to bring him back.
Just before the MLS primary window closed in April, the Reds acquired the central defender in a trade from Miami for $100,000 in GAM in 2024 and other assets. Mabika started off in a strong fashion as he helped TFC bolster their back line – at first looked to be an upgrade on Lukas MacNaughton, who was traded to Nashville SC on the same day. At six-feet-six and 214 pounds, Mabika was a towering presence and appeared to have the ability to cover space behind when his team stepped up its attack.
But Mabika's positive form didn't last long as he dropped off a cliff after that and came under fire following a string of lacklustre performances both in MLS and Leagues Cup. The former Inter Miami draft pick became such a defensive liability that interim coach Terry Dunfield often preferred to deploy Michael Bradley at centre back while Mabika was on the bench. He ended up playing in 21 MLS games this season with 17 starts.
With Mabika coming back, it means that 22 TFC players are contractually guaranteed for the 2024 season. Keep in mind that the MLS roster limit is 30 players, so if Kosi Thompson returns on loan from Norwegian club Lillestrøm SK this month (there's a possibility of a permanent transfer), that'll make it 23 players signed for next season, with only seven roster slots left open.
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.
“Over the summer we were able to make a couple of moves that increased our flexibility going into the off-season. The reality is we do still have quite a few guaranteed contracts [going] into 2024. The expectation is that not everybody will return. …. You can’t finish [at the] bottom of the table and expect there not to be changes,” Hernandez said last month.
Toronto's current roster headed into 2024 is below:
Goalkeepers (2): Luka Gavran and Sean Johnson
Defenders (6): Kobe Franklin, Aimé Mabika, Shane O’Neill, Raoul Petretta, Sigurd Rosted and Luke Singh
Midfielders (5): Latif Blessing, Alonso Coello Camarero, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Jonathan Osorio and Brandon Servania
Forwards (9): Ayo Akinola, Federico Bernardeschi, Adama Diomande, Lorenzo Insigne, Deandre Kerr, Cassius Mailula, Hugo Mbongue, Prince Owusu and Jordan Perruzza
CanWNT vs. Australia on Tuesday
Christine Sinclair will play her final game for the Canadian women's team this week before going into international retirement.
Last month, coach Bev Priestman announced her 25-player roster for this month's pair of friendlies vs. Australia and included in her list was Sinclair who previously announced her plans to retire from international soccer at the end of this year.
Canada plays Australia on Tuesday in the finale of a two-game friendly series at Vancouver’s BC Place which has been officially renamed Christine Sinclair Place for the iconic captain’s last game for her national team.
With the memory of its recent FIFA World Cup loss to Australia still fresh in its memory, Canada thrashed the Aussies 5-0 last Friday at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C. Nichelle Prince scored a first half brace, and Cloé Lacasse, Simi Awujo and Adriana Leon also scored for the Canadians against what amounted to Australia's "B team." Sinclair came off the bench in the second half.
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 330 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.
"I've tried to treat the first part of the camp like any other camp we've had. Trying to focus on beating Australia twice," Sinclair said on Sunday.
"But I knew that once we kind of moved back to Vancouver, things would change. Just the vibe around practice. I think we had like a half-an-hour-long photo shoot so we could all take individual pictures with everyone. I think it's kind of sinking in now that this is it."
Also included in Priestman’s latest squad is Houston Dash midfielder Sophie Schmidt, who will retire from the national team after Tuesday's game. Schmidt, 35, ranks second in all-time appearances for Canada with 225 caps. 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 Canadians leads the all-time series against the Australians with nine wins and three draws in 20 games since their first game against each other on Dec. 12, 1997. Canada has lost just three of the last 13 meetings (with eight 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 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
A lot went horribly wrong for Toronto FC in 2023. But a rare bright spot for the club was the emergence of Alonso Coello, the former TFC 2 midfielder who signed with the first team in April. 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. I recently chatted one-on-one with Coello about this and much more. Look for my feature story on the Spaniard in the coming days.
Other stories that will be published later this week include:
- My random thoughts column on Toronto FC.
- A Q&A with TFC 2 expert James Grossi on the Young Reds' 2023 season.
- 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 Tuesday.
- A special video blog on TFC forward Ayo Akinola.
- 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)
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