While MLSE is spending big, Nelsen says the team’s salary cap is actually in better shape that the bottom line bloated with bad contracts that he inherited last season.
As he noted, designated players may cost millions but their salary cap hit is $390,000
The arrival of Defoe and Bradley as designated players, along with Gilberto and incumbent midfielder Matias Laba means that Toronto has four DPs — one over the limit.
Laba is the odd man out, with Nelsen only saying at this stage that there are contingency plans.
As Nelsen points out, the MLSE board has dug deep into its pockets because it believes this is smart spending.
In the short term, improvements are needed to retain and build on the 14,600 season-ticket base.
With an average attendance of 18,131, the franchise ranked 10th in the league. MLSE will have looked longingly at Seattle’s league-leading average of 44,038.
But MLSE also wants to overhaul and expand BMO Field, likely pouring in $100-million-plus to add a roof and refit the bare-bones stadium to allow for football and other events.
The 22,00-seat capacity BMO was built on a $62-million shoestring, probably less than what Defoe and Bradley will cost.
Leiweke mused recently about Toronto hosting a Winter Classic, likely timed with the Maple Leafs’ 100th anniversary season in 2016-17.
A revamped BMO could also host outdoor music festivals, which were another string to the MLSE boss’s bow when he ran the Anschutz Entertainment Group.
AEG is the second-largest music promoter in the world (behind Live Nation), staging tours by Justin Bieber, Bon Jovi, Prince and Taylor Swift and running events like the New Orleans Jazz Festival, the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival and Stagecoach Festival.
Leiweke, a music fan who has attended Coachella, already has a big-name local music buddy in Drake, MLSE’s global ambassador who helped sell Toronto to Defoe.
De Rosario, Defoe and Bradley will sell tickets — and more than a few jerseys.
Defoe is a charismatic striker with an eye for goal, although one club official mused that recently signed Brazilian striker Gilberto may score more goals this season.
In return for a huge investment, the compact East Londoner offers Toronto FC respectability (55 caps for England) as well as scoring chops (more than 200 goals in all competitions).
He will also serve as a club ambassador, charming and entertaining off the pitch.
Bradley will run the midfield.
Add Brazilian midfielder Jackson and U.S. international fullback Justin Morrow to the young roster that remains from a six-win 2013 season and Toronto FC promises to be interesting watching when the season opens March 15 in Seattle.
For the league, it’s compelling evidence that the North American league is a legitimate soccer destination.
“We want to be leading the way,” Bezbatchenko said.
“The transformation this club has undergone the past three months is indicative of where we’re headed and what we want to do with player signings,” he continued. “We want to be top-class in the league, in every way.”
While some fans — following Leiweke’s Leaf dreams — may be planning the TFC parade route, his braintrust knows there is more work to be done in turning around a squad that went 6-17-11 last season.
Exhibit 1 is the Toronto Blue Jays, whose shopping spree produced little more than disappointment last year.
Nelsen knows an expensive bill does not necessarily make for a fine meal.
“Look, we’re improved as a team. Everybody can see that. We’re better. We’re going get better. Are we the finished product? No, not at all ... We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
He welcomed the pressure to win.
“Love it, everybody loves it,” he said. “Players want that, everybody want that, the coaches want that.”
Improvement will be an ever-present mantra, he added.
Bezbatchenko, meanwhile, was not about to puncture the fans’ balloon.
“Let them have their fun. Let’s let our fans enjoy the moment because we are making trades, we are signing Dwayne, Gilberto. We’re signing some really exciting players.
“So let them have their moment because it’s going to be a fun ride.”