There are no denials of interest, but Toronto FC continues to stay mum on the topic of Uruguayan World Cup star Diego Forlan.
“We don’t really have a lot to say about it,” TFC president Kevin Payne said Thursday, citing Forlan being under contract to Brazil’s Internacional.
Pressed further, Payne acknowledged his MLS club could make an offer for a player under contract. He just didn’t want to talk about such.
“Look, I don’t think it’s a good policy to talk about deals that are in progress,” he told reporters after practice. “It can’t do anything to help the deal. And it also can make you look pretty dumb if the deal doesn’t happen.
“We don’t talk about offers we’ve made and we definitely don’t talk publicly about players who are under contract to another team. To me, it’s a form of tampering. And even though it’s done frequently in the rest of the world, I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
In the past, Payne has talked about signing players who are “appreciating assets,” referring to young talent on the rise.
Forlan is 34. And while still vibrant, his future seems limited. But Payne says the TFC roster needs seasoned veterans.
“It’s pretty clear from watching this group, we’ve got a lot of good young talent on our team. But we need some players who’ve been through some wars, players who’ve won things, and players who understand what it takes to win, to lead those young players.”
Signing a world star would seem to fit in with the approach of Tim Leiweke, the new chief executive officer and president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., which owns the MLS team. The Los Angeles Galaxy snagged David Beckham on his watch.
On Wednesday, manager Ryan Nelsen suggested the foundation of the team needed to be sorted before it would make sense bringing in such a marquee name.
Payne agreed. But he said the team has the beginnings of “a very good foundation.” And he suggested that there are times when you just have to take the bull by the horns.
“Sometimes, opportunities come along, you can’t always time everything exactly the way you’d like,” he said. “So there are times when certain situations arise that you have to try to take advantage of. And it may not fit perfectly into your timetable.”
Toronto is looking to add attacking quality in the current transfer window.
“We’d like to add an established player and a young player,” Payne said. “Probably in the goal-scoring positions. But we also will be looking to add at least one additional midfielder, probably a wide player who can assist us in the attack not necessarily be relied on for goals but more a guy that can create goals.”
The team is also looking at a “younger, wide defender.”
Payne’s bid to turn the team around has not been helped by inheriting a salary cap scenario that he termed “disastrous.”
He says he took over a team with 16 or 17 guaranteed contracts.
“It was in a really, really tough state,” he added. “Some of the moves that we’ve made over time, under ordinary circumstances they might not have been the moves we would have made. But to some extent we were forced into doing certain things to give ourselves a chance to acquire flexibility. Because we didn’t have any.
“We were significantly over the [$2.95-million U.S. salary] cap and significantly under the number of players on our roster when I got here,” he said. “Basically, the house was on fire and we had to figure out some ways to try to put the fire out, at least short-term.”
The team is still struggling with some big salaries.
Veteran defender Danny Califf, currently back home with his family, has a salary listed at $165,000. Backup goalie Stefan Frei makes $200,000.
Add in fullbacks Darren O’Dea ($456,250) and Richard Eckersley ($310,000) and TFC has used up more than a third of its salary cap.
Those salaries could be even higher if Toronto has used allocation money to pay down the amount to the listed wages.
Depending on what it does in the summer transfer window, the team could go into next year season with just four or five guaranteed contracts.
That would then allow the front office to sign its own preferred core of players, shedding the rest.
Payne, meanwhile, says the playoffs are a long shot but still possible this season. Toronto has yet to experience the postseason, missing out the last six years.
And with a record of 2-8-7, the struggling club is currently 13 points out of the fifth and last playoff spot in the East.
Payne says the team has dug itself a deep hole but can pick up points with a good winning streak, especially against Eastern Conference opposition.
“We get to play a lot of six-point games,” he said. “We’re confident that if we can get the right pieces on the field that we can still make a run at the playoffs, we want to be in the conversation in the fall.”
Toronto plays at Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, and Chivas USA on Wednesday, before returning home to host the New York Bulls on July 20.