Toronto FC’s ‘buzzy’ mandate, plus transfer latest on Gabriel Slonina and Richie Laryea

It’s now been officially announced that former designated player Carlos Salcedo is no longer with Toronto and on his way back to Liga MX. The 28-year-old center back, who was acquired last winter in a swap with Tigres for attacker Yeferson Soteldo, is dealing with some family issues and asked for a move back to his home country so he can better manage them. TFC granted his request.

According to a source familiar with the situation, Toronto and Salcedo are making a clean break. TFC is not buying Salcedo out of his deal, nor will they receive any sort of compensation from whichever club he joins in Mexico. The source said that this is a true mutual termination, with Salcedo set to become a free agent once the transaction is finalized.

TFC signed Salcedo expecting him to be one of the best defenders in MLS, but he felt well short of that during his short stint at the club, which has conceded the third most goals in MLS this season. He could’ve conceivably turned things around with time, but his pending exit probably won’t be viewed with too much consternation in Toronto. His departure opens up a DP spot for the club and takes his expensive contract (he was making $2.35 million in 2022, according to the MLS Players Association; his deal was guaranteed through 2024) off of the books, giving TFC plenty of valuable wiggle room as they continue to rebuild their roster under first-year head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley.

It’s already been a remarkably busy 2022 for TFC. In the last six months, the club has offloaded four different designated players: Soteldo, who was purchased for $6 million in April 2021, was exchanged for Salcedo in January; striker Jozy Altidore was bought out of his DP deal, which was set to pay him $4.5 million this season, in February; playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, signed in 2019 for a $11 million transfer fee, was traded to Inter Miami last week. Now Salcedo is out the door. His departure means that TFC effectively paid a $6 million transfer fee and around $3 million in salary for one turbulent campaign with Soteldo and a disappointing half-season from Salcedo.

The club now only has one DP on the roster in Italian star Lorenzo Insigne. The 31-year-old agreed to a deal that will pay him a league record $15 million per year through the summer of 2026. He finished out the Serie A season with Napoli before arriving in Toronto last month; TFC is hoping he’ll be able to make his MLS debut on July 23.

Toronto is also going after one of his fellow Italian internationals in former Juventus winger Federico Bernardeschi. Atletico Madrid and AS Roma are reportedly also interested in adding the 28-year-old free agent. One source said Toronto has made a strong offer, though not at the levels of the Insigne deal. Bernardeschi is still seriously considering staying in Europe and the negotiations have been a bit up-and-down as he wavers on whether to move to MLS. The club remains optimistic, however, that they can convince him to cross the Atlantic.

As if all of that weren’t enough, Toronto also swung another massive trade on top of the Pozuelo deal last week, acquiring Toronto-area native and Canada national team midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye from Colorado for a package that will total more than $1 million in allocation money over the next three years.

In volume, significance and cost, the moves are basically unprecedented in MLS history. No team has ever rotated as many DPs in such a short amount of time; no team has ever paid a player even close to the salary TFC agreed with Insigne; few have ever even gone after a player of Bernadeschi’s age and profile.

But being buzzy is the mandate at TFC — no matter the expense. Seventy-five percent of parent company MLSE, which also owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors, is controlled by Canadian media companies Bell Enterprises and Rogers Communications. The group wants to drive the sports conversation in Canada. They want TFC to be a part of that, even if it means shedding DPs for significantly less than they were acquired for and spending record amounts on their replacements.

It’s a bold approach, and one that is breaking the mold in MLS. As a member of a technical staff at another club put it to The Athletic last week, half of you wants to applaud TFC for being so ambitious with their recent moves, while the other half of you wants to scream about how ridiculous they seem. What kind of club offloads a player like Pozuelo for peanuts, even if his contract is expiring in a few months? Who buys a player like Soteldo, jettisons him after a disappointing, turbulent season, then moves his replacement less than six months after signing him? Who does both in the same week, while simultaneously completing another huge trade and chasing an in-his-prime attacker who played a real role for the team that won the Euros not even 12 months ago?

This isn’t normal behavior for an MLS team. But TFC has never been normal. Toronto, which had a brutal 2021, is still struggling on the field, with their disappointing 2-2 home draw against Western Conference stragglers San Jose on Saturday, keeping them in 12th place in the East, but it’s possible that they’ve never been more interesting.

Bradley and club president Bill Manning, who has been around for all of the good and bad of the last half-decade, are trying to take apart and reassemble a plane in midair. TFC seemed hampered by a lack of proper long-term vision and poor choices for a few years leading up to this season, throwing lots of money at new signings, losing tons to make them go away, then spending even more on their replacements. They’re following that pattern again this summer, but it feels like this new crop of players — coupled with the inevitable additions that will come this offseason, particularly at the back — have better odds of getting TFC back on track.

Dallas, Vancouver among teams interested in Laryea

Multiple MLS teams are interested in acquiring Canada defender Richie Laryea, who is likely to leave Nottingham Forest on loan this season, according to multiple sources familiar with the talks.

Laryea, 27, was sold by Toronto FC to Forest last January for $1 million, but made just five appearances in the Championship last season. Forest was promoted to the Premier League and have been aggressive in the transfer market, including a move for Liverpool right back Neco Williams. Laryea is seeking a move of his own in order to secure playing time ahead of the World Cup in Qatar this fall.

Among the teams interested are the Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Dallas, according to two sources. Laryea is also in discussions with multiple teams in Europe, the sources said. Laryea spent the first six seasons of his professional career in MLS — the first three as a midfielder with Orlando City before being waived and joining Toronto FC, which converted him to a right wingback. Laryea thrived in his last two seasons in Toronto, scoring seven goals with five assists in 47 games at right back.

If he returns, Laryea, who started 14 World Cup qualifiers for Canada, would be subject to the MLS allocation process. Any interested team would likely need to trade up toward the top of the ranking in order to acquire Laryea. FC Cincinnati currently holds the No. 1 spot in the allocation order; the club has executed several deals this season in which they’ve traded and then immediately reacquired the top spot. FC Dallas holds the second position in the allocation ranking.

Louisville City’s Wynder drawing MLS, European interest

US Under-19 center back Josh Wynder is drawing heavy interest from teams in MLS and across Europe, according to multiple sources.

Wynder, 17, captained the US U-19 team last month, and his impressive play with the youth national team and in USL has caught the eye of teams in North America and abroad. One source said multiple MLS teams have expressed a desire to sign him, with two teams in the Western Conference and one in the Eastern Conference making pitches recently. But MLS is fighting an uphill battle to sign Wynder, partially because of concerns that he might not be able to pick the team he initially signs for, partially because he would be locked into a lengthy contract that would likely last at least four years and partially because of the high prices MLS clubs seek when transferring players abroad.

Louisville City is seeking a seven-figure transfer with a solid sell-on percentage for Wynder, and multiple Champions League teams have been in touch with the USL side. That includes bigger teams in the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, however sources said Wynder and Louisville City are focused on Champions League teams where he would be able to play and continue to develop. That likely means their sights are set on Holland, Belgium, Austria or Scandinavia.

Wynder would become the latest young USL player to move overseas, following Louisville’s Jonathan Gomez, who transferred to Real Sociedad B, and Orange County’s Kobi Henry, who moved to French club Stade de Reims for what was reported to be a USL-record of $700,000 , plus potential performance bonuses.

Chicago, Chelsea remain in discussions for Slonina

The Chicago Fire and Chelsea remain in discussions about US men’s national team goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina, however there is no agreement in place yet for a transfer of the talented netminder.

A report this week indicated a verbal agreement was in place between the Premier League team and Chicago, however a source said that is not true. While the two teams continue to discuss Slonina, the talks have remained just talks to this point. The Fire are still waiting for a written proposal from Chelsea.

The Fire did receive an offer from Real Madrid for Slonina earlier this year, however that offer was well below what the club sees as market value for Slonina, and well below even recent transfers in MLS — including the roughly $7 million move of US goalkeeper Matt Turner to Arsenal earlier this year.

Sources have said they expect Slonina to be sold in this window and loaned back to Chicago for the rest of this season. The Fire also have another top young goalkeeper, US Under-20 starter Chris Brady, waiting in the wings. Brady recently signed a long-term contract extension with the Fire.

(Photo: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

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