Toronto FC have landed their first big name of the off-season, signing right-back Gregory van der Wiel.
The talented Dutchman joins the MLS Cup Champions on a transfer using Targeted Allocation Money from Serie A side Cagliari, where he has been since August. The deal gives Toronto FC another veteran defender with big match experience as they signal further intent in the CONCACAF Champions League and to defend their domestic title.
No deal had been signed before the weekend, but an agreement became apparent as Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko sat courtside with van der Wiel at the Toronto Raptors game Sunday evening.
Van der Wiel represents a considerable coup for Toronto FC. While the club had stressed they were looking to add depth to the squad ahead of the new campaign, the Netherlands defender represents much more than that. Right-back was an area of pressing need with the departure of Steven Beitashour. Nico Hasler is capable playing the position but is more of a wing-back than traditional full-back.
Toronto FC desires versatility in the team, and van der Wiel provides just that. Once among the most sought after young defenders in the game, van der Wiel remains a player of stature and quality with winning pedigree.
The 29-year old’s summer move to Italy didn’t pan, failing to give the Dutch star the fresh start he desired. Limited playing time and on-field frustration has stalled his playing career since leaving PSG in 2016. Van der Wiel is renowned for his athleticism and ability to join the attack from the back. His skills fit ideally with head coach Greg Vanney’s style of play, and provide attacking balance on the right to the prowess Justin Morrow presents down the left.
New Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) coming into Major League Soccer makes moves like this possible. The ability to pay down salary against the cap gives more ammunition for clubs with the ability and desire to spend. Toronto FC has done expertly in working against the salary cap and making every dollar count.
Toronto FC has proven an ideal landing spot for talented players like van der Wiel to regain top form. Jozy Altidore, Victor Vazquez and Chris Mavinga are prime examples of very good players reaching their potential in Toronto after struggling at previous clubs to find form.
Van der Wiel was a mainstay in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, helping the Netherlands to a second place finish. The right-back featured prominently throughout the tournament, including starting the final and playing every minute in the 1-0 extra-time loss to Spain in Johannesburg.
Van der Wiel, who turns 30 on Feb. 3, was one of the most well regarded right-backs across Europe while at Ajax, catching the eye of big clubs across the continent for his strength and pace. He joined French giants PSG in 2012, spending four years of various levels of success and mixed reviews.
Inconsistent play has marked his career since, failing to able to secure regular first-team football despite winning four consecutive Ligue 1 titles. A move to Fenerbahce in 2016 in hopes of regular playing time didn’t pan out either, with van der Wiel experiencing on and off field frustrations in Turkey.
His most recent stop at Cagliari failed to bring a change in fortunes, starting only three games in league play this season. Van der Wiel hasn’t played international football for the Netherlands since 2015.