The Angle

Designated Report: Toronto FC

by on 1 September 2016

Jeff Rueter examines the history of Toronto FC’s Designated Players in his ongoing series.

Toronto has one of the most fascinating profiles of any expansion side in MLS history. For the first eight years of their existence, they were hapless. With mismanagement around every turn, the Reds failed to make the postseason in their first eight seasons, burning through nine managers until stabilizing under Greg Vanney in the middle of 2014. We know their current assortment of DPs is dangerous, but will the major flops of the past tank their grade?

All transfer sum numbers from Transfermarkt.
All salaries thanks to MLS Players Union surveys.
An asterisk (*) indicates a player who signed their DP deal mid-tenure with club.

Previous installments:

Introduction to Series and Updating Chart of Profiled Clubs
DC United: C
FC Dallas: C+
Columbus Crew: B
Sporting KC: B-
New York Red Bulls: B-
San Jose Earthquakes: C
New England Revolution: C+
Los Angeles Galaxy: B+
Chicago Fire: C-
Colorado Rapids: B-
Real Salt Lake: B
Chivas USA: B-


Toronto FC 
(founded 2007)

FAVORITE FRUITLESS RUMOR: Daniele De Rossi (November 2015)

Julian de Guzman (2009-2012)

Age When Signed: 28
Average Base Salary per Season: $1,750,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.187

Pre-DP:
The first Canadian to play in La Liga, de Guzman is something of a seminal figure in Canadian soccer lore. De Guzman came up in French side Marseille’s academy, landing with German FC Saarbrücken at the age of 19. From there, he signed on with Deportivo La Coruna in 2005, making 97 appearances through the end of the 2008-2009 season.

DP Years:
De Guzman became the first Canadian Designated Player in September 2009, signing a three-year deal with MLS. He made his debut against Los Angeles, but he wasn’t fielded regularly until 2010, where he saw 36 matches across all action. There was a major surprise when Toronto left De Guzman unprotected in the 2011 expansion draft, but both Vancouver and Portland passed on him. Many chalked this up to a lackluster 2010 season and a high salary hit. In reality, De Guzman required a surgery on his knee due to a torn meniscus. De Guzman failed to see much of the field from there, and by mid-2012, he’d only made 65 appearances (53 starts), scoring just twice.

Post-DP:
De Guzman was traded in July 2012 to FC Dallas in exchange for Andrew Wiedeman. He added two assists in his 12 appearances (10 starts), and the club ultimately missed the playoffs, finishing sixth in the Western Conference. The club opted to not re-sign him, and he went through both rounds of the Re-Entry Draft unclaimed. On January Deadline Day, de Guzman signed with 2 Bundesliga club SSV Jahn Regensburg, leaving at the end of the season when the club was relegated. He played in Greece for a spell before joining NASL side Ottawa Fury in 2015, where he currently serves as club captain.

Grade: F
With his high salary, his low productivity, and a growing injury concern, De Guzman failed to live up to expectations. The club missed the playoffs during his entire tenure, and a desire to get their money’s worth out of De Guzman may have prevented the club from finding better defensive midfielders.

Mista (2010)

Age When Signed: 31
Average Base Salary per Season: $968,736
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.165

Pre-DP:
Mista was one of the most consistent forwards in La Liga in the turn of the millennium. After failing to graduate out of the Real Madrid academy, Mista (born Miguel Ángel Ferrer Martínez) made his senior debut at 20 with Tenerife, helping guide the club to promotion in 2001. Mista signed with Valencia that summer, serving as a key part of a club that won the 2004 UEFA Cup over Olympique de Marseille. He parlayed his performance to a contract with Atlético Madrid in 2006, playing 29 games in his first year but quickly falling down the depth chart. He then went to Deportivo La Coruńa, scoring just twice in a year and a half. Between injuries and inconsistent form, he was a liability once again with the club.

DP Year: 
Coaxed overseas by former teammate De Guzman, Mista signed a contract in the summer of 2010 that would carry through the rest of the season. He debuted three weeks later (July 24), and scored a goal against Cruz Azul in the CONCACAF Champions League the following month. However, that was the only goal he would score with Toronto, failing to find the back of the net across nine games. After going unclaimed in the 2010 Expansion Draft, Mista was waived by Toronto before announcing his retirement soon after, hanging his boots up at 32.

Grade: F
Just a theory: if a player who’s failing to live up to expectations suggests bringing along a former teammate of his on an equally painful salary, it’s best to skip signing the second player. Clearly a shell of his former self well before his stint in Toronto, Mista never connected with the club and didn’t show much drive to perform. Further, his hit of over $100,000 per regular season game is absolutely awful for a striker who can’t score.

Torsten Frings (2011-2012)

Age When Signed: 34
Average Base Salary per Season: $699,996
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.161

Pre-DP:
Frings was a midfield stalwart in his prime. He made his debut with third division Alemannia Aachen, catching the eye of Werder Bremen in 1997 (age 20). Frings signed with Bremen that year and played 162 matches across five seasons, scoring 15 goals in total. He was then sold for $11.5 million to Borussia Dortmund in 2002 before featuring for the German men’s national team in that year’s World Cup. He was the chief playmaker in his two years, featuring 47 times and scoring ten goals. He signed a three-year deal with Bayern Munich in 2004, but left after one season, citing tactical differences and being played out of position. He rejoined Werder for six more years, making 164 appearances and scoring 21 goals.

DP Year:
Frings was in the latter stages of his career but had remained consistent in Bremen, leading to a good deal of excitement for a Toronto franchise that hoped to be competitive. Frings soon became the captain for Toronto FC, and while he was steady in the midfield and in the locker room, it didn’t often show on the score sheet. He finally scored a goal 363 days after he had signed in Toronto, an impressive free kick from 22 yards out. Unfortunately, he caught a hip injury late in the season, and by February it was clear that he’d need to hang up his boots.

Post-DP:
While Kevin Payne (club president at the time) made it clear that he wanted Frings to be a part of the team’s coaching staff, Frings returned to Germany to begin coaching in his home country. He latched on with Werder Bremen (naturally), starting as an assistant for their II team before becoming an assistant for the first team under new coach Viktor Skripnik.

Grade: B-
I’ll admit that there might be a bit of a rose tint to Frings after the first two DPs the club signed. He was a steady presence that helped the club during a so-called “Ajax culture” for Toronto, looking to bring a possession-based 4-3-3 formation as well as a focus on youth. With plenty of experience and a solid work-ethic, Frings helped usher in a (well, eventually) competitive Toronto team.

Danny Koevermans (2011-2013)

Age When Signed: 32
Average Base Salary per Season: $999,996
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.891

Pre-DP:
At 6’3″, Koevermans was a physically-imposing striker. The Dutchman made his professional debut for Sparta Rotterdam, scoring 71 goals in 120 appearances before moving to AZ in 2005. Already 26, Koevermans scored 31 goals in two years despite being the second-choice forward for Louis van Gaal’s side. As he wanted more consistent playing time, he joined PSV Eindhoven for $7 million, wearing the number 10 jersey. His scoring dipped a bit, still averaging over 10 goals a year during his three years with PSV.

DP Years:
Lured as a part of a dual-package with Frings, Koevermans scored his first goal with Toronto three days after his debut. He was MLS Player of the Week in mid-September after bagging a brace against reigning-champion Colorado Rapids. In 2012 he continued his form, scoring 9 goals in 16 matches (12 starts) while fighting off injuries. 2013 found him injured for all but 4 matches, leading to The Toronto Sun’s Kurt Larson to write a piece about Koevermans being both the best and worst DP signing in league history.

Post-DP:
In reality, Koev was neither the best nor the worst, and after his contract ran out in 2013, he signed with FC Utrecht, retiring two months later and joining their coaching ranks. He then left for Sparta Rotterdam’s coaching staff in 2015, where he still serves as an assistant.

Grade: C
It’s easy to be amazed by his goal+assist rate, which nearly hits a perfect 1 per game. Still, the amount of time Koevermans missed combined with his relatively-high salary hit for Toronto at the time kept the club from making a playoff push, and by the end of 2013 it was impossible to remember him scoring 8 goals in 10 games during his first half-season.

Eric Hassli (2012)

Age When Signed: 31
Average Base Salary per Season: $550,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.787

Pre-DP:
The Frenchman, Eric Hassli, signed with French club Metz in 2000, making 38 appearances over three seasons with a loan to Southampton wedged in the middle of his tenure. After finding it impossible to crack the lineup for either club, he headed to Swiss side Neuchatel Xamax and later Servette. In both instances, he saw lackluster minutes for mid-tier teams before getting his break with St. Gallen. He netted 18 goals in 47 games, boosting his reputation and being signed for a year with French Ligue 1 club Valenciennes. He again bounced to the reserves, heading back to Switzerland and spending four years with Zurich and rebuilding his reputation once again. He became Vancouver’s first-ever DP in 2011.

DP Years: 
Toronto acquired Hassli in exchange for a 2014 1st-round SuperDraft pick (which ended up being 3rd overall – Christian Dean; yikes!). Hassli made his debut two weeks later, being subbed off for future Ottawa Fury starter Andrew Wiedeman. He scored in his next match against Portland and ended up with three goals and two assists in seven matches to close out the season. Probably the best part about Hassli is his mlssoccer.com profile, where he lists “listening to music, dining out, and visiting friends” as his hobbies. No other player in the league names their hobbies.

Post-DP:
Hassli was traded in February 2013 in exchange for a second round SuperDraft pick in 2014 (used on Daniel Lovitz). Hassli made 15 appearances for the club, starting four games and lending one assist before a back injury kept him on the disabled list for the rest of the year. At the end of 2013, the team and the player mutually parted ways. Hassli spent two years with the late San Antonio Scorpions, making 38 appearances and scoring six goals. As the franchise ceased NASL operations, he wasn’t picked up by any club, and at 35, he may be facing retirement.

Grade: C+
You know what? 5 goals+assists in seven matches isn’t a bad pickup. The club still finished 19th in the league, but all-told Hassli had nothing to do with their demise, proving he still had something in the tank for the Reds.

Matias Laba (2013)

Age When Signed: 21
Average Base Salary per Season: $200,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.064

Pre-DP:
Toronto fans may want to scroll down and ignore this one.

Laba came up the ranks with Argentinos Juniors, making his debut at 18 and playing 62 matches over three years. Earning Argentina U20 caps, Laba was the center of transfer rumors to bigger clubs in Argentina as well as the United States. After much speculation, the defensive midfielder ended up in Toronto for a $1.5 million transfer fee.

DP Year:
Laba started sixteen matches for Toronto in 2013, scoring a match-winning goal visiting New England while providing great stability in the central midfield. Immediately, fans latched onto the player, as his selfless style of play as well as his defensive grit helped open up space for an improving Toronto side…

Post-DP:
…however, ownership wanted to take their DP slots in a new direction. With the signings of Gilberto, Jermain Defoe, and Michael Bradley, Toronto was committed to a two-striker formation, meaning there couldn’t be two holding midfielders in Bradley and Laba. Laba was loaned across the country to Vancouver, who after one year made his move a permanent one. In turn, Laba has been one of the best defensive midfielders in the league, providing plenty of space for creative players like Pedro Morales and Kekuta Manneh to roam and protecting a young backline.

Grade: B
D’oh. Frankly, Laba is exactly the type of midfielder that Toronto has been lacking, and slotting him alongside Bradley in a 4-2-3-1 formation would be absolutely perfect in Toronto’s current setup. Instead, the club opted for Gilberto and Defoe.

Gilberto (2014)

Age When Signed: 24
Average Base Salary per Season: $1,145,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.552

Pre-DP:
Gilberto came through the Santa Cruz ranks, making his debut for the senior team at 20. He scored 23 goals in 31 matches, using his speed and movement to win chances for the second-division side. He moved to Brazilian club Internacional in 2011, spending time on loan with Sport and Portuguesa before a December 2013 transfer brought him to Toronto FC.

DP Years: 
Despite Gilberto having more lucrative offers from clubs in Mexico and Germany, Toronto was able to snag Gilberto for a $3 million transfer fee. Gilberto took a while to get going, finally adding an assist in the end of May and scoring his first goal in June. Once he got the monkey off of his back, however, he was a steady contributor to a competitive Toronto side. While the club narrowly missed the post-season, Gilberto had seven goals and five assists in just over half of a season, finding a good tandem with Defoe and Bradley.

Post-DP:
After Toronto acquired Sebastian Giovinco, Gilberto was loaned to Vasco da Gama for 2015. Upon his return, he was waived, landing with Chicago through the allocation order. He scoring 5 goals and added 2 assists in 2015, but failed to find similar success this year. A general lack of cohesion with the roster and his disappointment with the situation in Toronto lead to his departure this summer, with Gilberto returning to Brazil to join Sao Paulo.

Grade: B-
Eventually, Gilberto proved to be a solid contributor, especially taking set-pieces as Bradley was away at the World Cup. Whether in the starting XI or serving as a change-of-pace for Defoe off the bench, Gilberto gave young quality to the Reds’ attack. Still, it’s hard to fault the club for choosing Giovinco over him.

Jermain Defoe (2014)

Age When Signed: 32
Average Base Salary per Season: $6,000,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.765

Pre-DP:
Defoe is one of the best forwards to ever come out of England. Coming up the ranks with Charlton Athletic and West Ham, Defoe made his debut with the latter club at 16 in 1999. Across four campaigns, Defoe scored 29 goals around a year-long loan to Bournemouth, where he added 18 in 29 matches. He was sold to Tottenham in 2004 for $7 million. He proved to be a steal, scoring 43 goals in 139 appearances while finding regular minutes with the English National Team. He spent 2008-09 at Portsmouth before returning to Tottenham, with Portsmouth making a $12 million profit from the transactions. Having worked his way up to 11th in the Premier League’s all-time charts, Defoe was ready for a change of pace.

DP Year:
Defoe joined Toronto in February after a courtship council which included ex-Tottenham player Ryan Nelsen and Toronto’s own Drake. He hit the ground running, scoring a brace in his debut against Seattle in a 2-1 victory. Through 16 matches, he had 11 goals, making him appear to be a great addition on his four-year deal. However, a change at the general manager position in August led to new GM Tim Bezbatchenko to be less committed to Defoe, and after one season the writing was on the wall.

Post-DP:
Defoe was essentially swapped for Altidore, returning to the Premiership with Sunderland. So far, Defoe has scored 22 goals in 53 matches, including two in the first three matches of this young season.

Grade: B
He missed fifteen matches due to injury, but there were few more prolific scorers in MLS that year than Defoe. He was clearly affected by the lack of commitment from the new management and his play suffered because of it, but he kept every opponent’s backline on their heels and hadn’t missed a step.

Michael Bradley (2014-Current)

Age When Signed: 26
Average Base Salary per Season: $6,000,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.301

Pre-DP:
Bradley was one of the brightest prospects to come through the United States in recent memory. He signed a Project-40 (the precursor to Generation Adidas) contract with MLS in 2004, making his professional debut at 16 with the MetroStars. Conveniently, his father Bob was his coach, able to ease his way onto the field in his second year…as a regular starter. He scored his first professional goal a few weeks after Bob had been fired, clinching a playoff spot for the MetroStars in the final week. Impressing at a young age, he began a tour of Europe including trips to SC Heerenveen (16 goals in 63 appearances), Borussia Mönchengladbach (10 goals in 76 appearances), a three-match loan to Aston Villa, and a season in Chievo. He landed with Roma in 2012, starting 41 matches in two seasons and earning the nickname “The General.” Meanwhile, he became an automatic call-up under his father and continued the trend under Jürgen Klinsmann, and at 29 he’s the 7th highest-capped player in USMNT history (121 after the Copa).

DP Years:
In a move that was every bit as shocking as Clint Dempsey’s to Seattle in 2013, Bradley signed with Toronto ahead of the 2014 season as part of their new DP trifecta. Many people were astounded that the 26 year-old dynamo would head to MLS in his prime (especially as he wasn’t even coming back to the United States), but Bradley continued his usual, steady form for both club and country. Around his international call-ups, Bradley has 7 goals and 13 tickets over two-and-a-half seasons, leading Toronto to their first postseason appearance in 2015.

Grade: A
Bradley has been steady with Toronto thus far, and his leadership for a club that had historically been a disaster has done wonders to change the culture around the club. While it’s going to be a recurring problem that he’ll miss 8-10 matches a year due to international duty, Bradley has been a success for Toronto.

Jozy Altidore (2015-Current)

Age When Signed: 25
Average Base Salary per Season: $4,800,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 0.703

Pre-DP:
Altidore was another wünderkind for the United States. Taken 17th overall in the 2006 SuperDraft by the MetroStars, Altidore made his debut in the U.S. Open Cup in August, scoring in one of his first league matches to defeat Columbus 1-0. He had three goals in seven matches down the stretch, continuing his form by scoring in the postseason that year while still just 16 years old. He was sold to Villareal, spending time on loan with Xerez, Hull City, and Bursaspor before being sold to AZ in 2011. Across two years, he scored 39 goals, turning heads and starting a bidding war for the physically-imposing striker. He ended up with Sunderland, but a lack of cohesion on the field and a lack of adjustment to the Premier League caused him to only score three goals in 52 appearances across all competitions. Internationally, he’s the third highest scorer (34) in USMNT history at 26, behind some guys named Donovan and Dempsey.

DP Years:
Eager for a change of scenery among increasingly hostile conditions in Britain, Altidore was swapped for Defoe leading into the 2015 season. Like Bradley, he’s one of Klinsmann’s favorite call-ups when healthy, leading to him missing 9 matches last season. However, he’s scored 18 goals in 41 matches since his debut, including a torrid run with Toronto this summer after returning from injury. He’s formed a dangerous partnership with Giovinco.

Grade: B+
Injuries keep him from the A-range, but Altidore has regained his mojo in Toronto. Truly warming up to the community, he’s been a great figure for the city as well, all while embracing the responsibility of being a target man once again. His move alongside Bradley’s and so many others’ have helped MLS grow into a league where USMNT players can thrive rather than retire.

Sebastian Giovinco (2015-Current)

Age When Signed: 28
Average Base Salary per Season: $5,600,000
Goals+Assists per 90: 1.203

Pre-DP:
Can I just give the guy an A+ and close out? No?

Giovinco (three syllables) joined the storied Juventus academy at 9 years old, making his senior debut at 18. While he spent 2007-08 on loan with Empoli and 2010-2012 with Parma, Giovinco was a consistent attacker on the wing and centrally, adding 42 goals in a decade. He also made his Italian National Team debut in 2011, representing the Azzurri at Euro 2012. However, playing time was hard to come by under manager Antonio Conte, and once he did see the field he would have a mixed bag of goal-scoring results.

DP Years:
In a shocking move, Giovinco signed with Toronto in 2015 and left Juventus five months ahead of schedule in order to join The Reds for the full season. Somewhat surprisingly, it took a month for Giovinco to score his first goal, but once he did, it was impossible for the league to shut him down. He ended up winning the Golden Boot and the Landon Donovan MVP Award in 2015 to the tune of 22 goals and 16 assists. While he’s double-teamed nearly every match this season, he hasn’t slowed down, scoring 16 and adding 13 assists on his way to an inevitable second MVP trophy.

Grade: A+
As a writer, I hate hyperbole. That said: Giovinco has changed the landscape of MLS forever. A player in his prime who still gets Italian call-ups at a premium position? That’s a far cry from the typical DP at the turn of the decade. Simply put, he is probably the highest-quality signing in league history, and it’s a matter of time before he’s the league’s best, too. It’ll be interesting to see if Toronto keep turning down offers for him: this winter, FC Barcelona came calling about him, and it’s easy to see why.

Toronto FC Recap:

Average Signing Age: 28.4
Average Base Salary: $2,610,338.91
Average Grade: B+

Toronto FC’s DP plan seems to be similar to someone who leases cars and decides to upgrade every year. They’re a FIFA video game player’s dream, with frequent transfers for marquee players over the last five years. All-told, it’s damn impressive that a club which struck out on their first two DPs and didn’t have a hit until their sixth have such high ranks. That’ll happen when you have the best trio of DPs in the league, though.

Toronto isn’t a good expectation for what Minnesota United will aim for, however. They have three marquee players (all in their prime) while flexing a budget much larger than The Loons’ will be. If we land one player at the age and caliber of these three, we’ll be set up pretty well.

If only they could all stay on the field at the same time…

Next week: Seattle Sounders

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