Victor Vázquez proved he has the talent of a designated player when he made Major League Soccer’s Best XI in his debut season in North America.
The problem was Toronto FC already had three DPs who weren’t going anywhere any time soon in Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.
So Reds general manager Tim Bezbatchenko did the next best thing: he gave Vázquez the maximum $1.5 million salary for a targeted allocation money player when the 31-year-old negotiated an extension to his existing terms before the 2018 campaign.
That’s a significant pay raise on Vázquez’s initial $700,000-a-year deal, per MLS Players Association figures released Thursday. That also means the Catalan is better compensated than both Gregory van der Wiel and Ager Aketxe, the club’s latest TAM additions.
Aketxe, who has had an up-and-down start to life in Toronto, has significant expectations to meet on $1.295 million a year. Van der Wiel makes $835,000, while Chris Mavinga also appears to have risen into TAM range — more than MLS’ maximum budget charge of $504,375 — with a boost to $563,333 on the back of a strong 2017 season.
Following the retirement of Orlando City star Kaka, Giovinco has become the highest-paid player in MLS with his more than $7 million total compensation. Altidore, meanwhile, appears to have triggered bonuses increased his earnings $250,000 compared to last year.
With a total payroll of over $26 million, TFC remains the highest-spending team in MLS.
Depth rewarded for MLS Cup win
Giovinco, Bradley and Altidore earn eye-watering sums. But as every senior DP in the league carries the same maximum cap hit regardless of salary, that’s more of a concern to Reds ownership group MLSE’s accountants than the front office.
What has been trickier for TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko to deal with are the raises commanded further down the depth chart on the back of Toronto’s treble-winning 2017 season.
Only three regular contributors — Nicolas Hasler, Alex Bono and Nick Hagglund — remain below the $200,000 mark, and Bono will not stay there for long if he continues to make United States men’s national team squads.
TFC had over $600,000 in general allocation money to help pay down a few salaries this year. But they had to swing two trades to acquire it, and there are more tough decisions coming.
Eriq Zavaleta, who extended his deal over the winter, has set the standard for an ordinary roster player by netting $263,558 in guaranteed compensation. Hasler, Bono and Hagglund are all likely to reference that when they sit down over new terms. And Jonathan Osorio, who is out of contract at the end of the season, will want more if he continues to score close to his current pace of six in 14 games.
More losses may be necessary
With all this, it’s easy to see why TFC decided it could not afford to bring back veteran right back Steven Beitashour, who hit free agency in December. Beitashour ended up signing with LAFC for $298,375 in guaranteed compensation.
Beitashour was popular with supporters and a tough loss to swallow, but he will not be the last MLS Cup winner to go. Having lost his starting job to Bono, Clint Irwin’s $221,312 deal clearly stands out as potentially vulnerable if Bezbatchenko feels he needs to open up cap space.
Irwin rarely disappoints when called upon and will be of interest to any club that finds itself in need of a new No. 1 goalkeeper this year.
Bezbatchenko may also have to weigh up the value offered by backup striker Tosaint Ricketts. Like Irwin, Ricketts’ contract isn’t bad in isolation: he’s an excellent option off the bench and is hardly earning through the roof at $203,174. However, Jordan Hamilton, who costs nothing against the cap on the reserve roster, may be able to replace what Ricketts brings sufficiently enough to shed that salary if an opportunity presents itself via trade.
“You have to shed players once their salary gets too high, once they hit too many performance bonuses,” Bezbatchenko told MLSsoccer.com last year. “You’re chopping [the better teams] off at knees in order to maintain parity. Our goal is to be innovative, think creatively, and leave no stone unturned.”
TFC’s ability to do that will continue to be tested in the coming months.