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More changes in the works for Toronto FC

The Canadian Press

7/16/2013 7:13:07 PM

Expect the revolving door at Toronto FC to keep turning. Manager Ryan Nelsen says he has not finished pruning the MLS team roster even in the wake of Darren O'Dea, Luis Silva and Danny Califf leaving the building.

The three had a combined hit of US$726,650 against the salary cap of $2.95 million, but actually cost Toronto more since allocation money was used to pay down the wages that counted against the cap.

"Obviously we're a lot more healthy but no, they're still a couple of situations that might have to happen because of salary cap and that," Nelsen said Tuesday from Los Angeles where Toronto plays at Chivas USA on Wednesday night.

"But it was always going to happen, we're having to break down the scars of the past, to put us in a position where we can move forward. We just cannot move forward under the old situation with the salary cap."

While the salary cap surgery is not finished, quality is expected to come in the door. It seems likely Toronto will soon announce a marquee acquisition.

While TFC officials have not publicly commented on reports that Uruguayan World Cup star Diego Forlan is a target, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke has talked of a "significant signing."

The club is also taking another shot at landing young Argentine striker Maximiliano Urutti, among other signings.

"We thought it potentially could take longer," Nelsen said of the salary cap relief. "But we're actually now in a position now, very soon from now, where we'll be in a very healthy situations, with some really good up-and-coming players but with the financial situation where we can bring in players that can obviously help the team."

A glance at Toronto's salary figures suggests that fullback Richard Eckersley ($310,000) and backup goalie Stefan Frei ($200,000) are the next two pieces of the salary cap puzzle. While both are quality players, moving their contracts will be a challenge, especially given Frei has not played a league match since 2011 due to injury and stellar play of Joe Bendik this season.

Toronto's current big-ticket players are Dutch striker Danny Koevermans, who makes $1.663 million but only counts $368,750 against the salary cap as a designated player and Argentine midfielder Matias Laba, whose salary cap hit as a young designated player is $200,000.

At 34 and coming back from knee surgery, Koevermans may not be a long-term factor.

Money is not a problem at MLSE so stars can be had at a price. But there needs to be a quality supporting cast whose wages are not out of whack.

The club could sign two more designated players and possibly slip in another young star if the league is so inclined to help with the red tape.

O'Dea's wages were a salary-cap killer, well above the cap cost of a designated player.

"To put it in perspective we could got Cristiano Ronaldo and Matias Laba on for less money," said Nelsen.

The MLS salary cap cost of a DP -- Ronaldo's current salary at Real Madrid is a reported $19 million a year -- and young DP is a combined $568,750, suggesting O'Dea's actual salary was even more than advertised.

"The whole of Kansas City's backline was on the equivalent of Darren's money," added Nelsen.

"This is common sense kind of stuff here we have to do this to move forward."

The O'Dea move to a team in Ukraine is "99 per cent done" pending a medical, according to Nelsen.

O'Dea has not spoken publicly of his departure other than to tweet that he was discussing terms with another team. "Not what I want! Not got a choice! I'll update you when things are clearer!"

Nelsen had a different view.

"If you were getting the exact same amount of money to live in Toronto or Ukraine, where would you live? Of course it's not what he wants, it's not what most people want," Nelsen said. "But the difference is that we couldn't re-sign him on the money he wanted -- nobody would -- and the Ukraine (team) ended up signing a deal that her was very happy with."

Nelsen also said the team had not chased its captain.

"If it wasn't his desire to leave, he wouldn't have left. But he got a really good contract. But as I said to Darren, we're not going to force you out the door, I'm not going to not play you or anything like that. We don't run like that. He's making out very well on the deal and we're making out very well on the deal. So it's just a win-win situation."

But it was clear to O'Dea, who was free to leave come January, that any new deal with Toronto would contain a significant paycut.

"No MLS club in their right mind would go even near that contract," Nelsen said.

But in Europe, where there is no salary cap, O'Dea's market price is higher.

Nelsen also made a point of linking production to money.

"The great thing in MLS and American sports is that if you get the money, you have to produce and you have to be as effective to be worth that money, And that's in any sport in America, that's just how it is."

The inference was O'Dea was not worth it to TFC.

Asked about why anyone would sign O'Dea to a contract that size given the league's salary limitation, Nelsen said: "You're asking the wrong person."

The only other TFC players currently listed at $100,000-plus are forwards Robert Earnshaw ($155,150) and Justin Braun ($114,700) and midfielder-defender Darel Russell ($109,875). Striker Jeremy Brockie is not listed on the May 1 MLS Players Union salary list.

Defenders O'Dea (listed at $456,250) and Califf ($165,000) and midfielders Silva ($105,400), Terry Dunfield ($120,000) and Hogan Ephraim ($180,000) have all moved on.

Defender-midfielder Michael Thomas has arrived via trade from Sporting Kansas City on a more modest $60,715 salary. Defender Mark Bloom came via the NASL club Atlanta Silverbacks and so is likely an even bigger bargain. Nelsen calls them common sense acquisitions.

"They're good players for the salaries they're on," said Nelsen. "It just makes cap sense in terms of value."

It's probably no coincidence that O'Dea's departure came in tandem with Eckersley's return from a three-money injury layoff.

Two dozen players have left the club since the end of last season. The club's attempts to upgrade the roster have been restricted by salary cap constraints, forcing a string of patchwork loans and signings while officials looked to do major surgery to remove unwanted contacts.

All this has not helped the product on the pitch in the short-term.

A short-handed Toronto was exposed in a 3-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, a game that saw the home side string a dozen passes together in constructing the attack that led to the final goal.

Toronto (2-9-7) came into the game without O'Dea, who had flown back to Toronto the day of the game. Nelsen agreed that the sudden changes in the team might have affected his players but insisted the upheaval was necessary.

"If this club wants to get in a position where the players want to potentially win games, then these moves have to be made. They have to be done. And that's life."

Toronto is 2-19-11 since July 18, 2012, the last time it registered a league win at BMO Field.

Chivas (3-11-5) is playing its fourth game in two weeks, returning home after an 0-1-2 road trip that included a 1-1 tie in Montreal.

Toronto will get Canadian internationals Jonathan Osorio, Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan and Kyle Bekker back from the Gold Cup. But midfielder Reggie Lambe is suspended after his red card in Kansas City.

Toronto continues a busy portion of the schedule Saturday when it entertains Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls (9-7-4).