It didn’t take long for the first shoe to drop in the wake of Kevin Payne’s dismissal from the Toronto FC front office.
On Monday, just days after Payne was fired as the MLS team’s president and general manager, his prize acquisition was shipped to the Portland Timbers
In trading away 22-year-old Argentine forward Maximiliano Urruti and an international roster spot, Toronto received 26-year-old forward Bright Dike (pronounced Bright DEE-kay), a first-round draft choice in 2015 and allocation money, which the club can use to stretch its salary cap. The international roster slot in the deal expires on Dec. 31.
Toronto also gets to hold 20 per cent of Urruti’s rights, so it will profit if he is sold. And Toronto now has three first-rounders in the 2015 draft.
In the wake of his dismissal Thursday, Payne’s reserved parking sign was gone Monday as the 4-13-10 team returned to training following a 4-0 weekend defeat in Portland. Payne’s loss was the gain of one of the two reporters who showed up for practice at the team’s north Toronto training centre and unexpectedly found a primo parking place.
The Urruti trade has to be seen in the context of other planned Toronto moves. Some could happen this week if the club can pull the trigger before MLS rosters are frozen Friday at 5 p.m. ET.
But it still came as a shock. After all, Payne pursued Urruti like Captain Ahab in search of Moby Dick.
“We are thrilled to finally get this deal concluded for Maximiliano Urruti,” Payne said when the signing was finally announced Aug. 15. “He is a player that we have been aware of for nearly two years and we have scouted him extensively in person.”
All told, Urruti saw just 37 minutes of action with Toronto in two substitute appearances. The Argentine arrived in off-season shape so fans did not see him at his best.
“For what we’re bringing in and what we got for Portland, it was just a deal we couldn’t turn down,” manager Ryan Nelsen said Monday of the trade. “And it works for us in a very big way.”
Change is in the offing at Toronto FC with Nelsen looking to fill a shopping list of needs.
Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, told season ticket-holders Sunday at the team’s annual barbecue that Toronto is after two designated player strikers. He added that the money is not a problem, given that the board had authorized $26 million for two such deals over the August transfer window.
That cash was never spent, but Nelsen and Leiweke have specific marquee targets for the January window.
Two star strikers would leave little room for Urruti.
During the lengthy pursuit of Urruti, Toronto FC talked of the league coming up with a new category to enable marquee talent without labelling them designated players. And on Monday in an interview, Nelsen referred to Urruti as being a “league DP” with the league having signed the player and holding 80 per cent of the player.
But in a hastily called conference call Monday night, a league official said there was no DP tag attached to Urruti and denied that the Argentine was anything but a normal international signing.
“The terms of the Urruti acquisition or signing are confidential but he is not a designated player,” Lino DiCuollo, the MLS vice-president of competition and player relations who signed the player, said in a subsequent interview.
DiCuollo said there is no such thing as a league designated player. He also said the league was not involved in the Urruti trade.
He did call the Urruti signing with MLS “definitely one of the most complicated transactions to work on” because of the many parties involved.
Teams are allowed a maximum of three designated players (Toronto currently has two in midfielder Matias Laba and striker Danny Koevermans).
Nelsen see Dike as a valuable piece of what will be a new Toronto puzzle.
His career line with the Timbers reads like this: 23 games, nine starts and six goals over three injury-disrupted seasons (in 2011 he ruptured his Achilles tendon in pre-season).
Dike blew out his knee in the pre-season but was on the Timbers’ bench for their 4-0 win over Toronto on Saturday and has played 80 minutes in a reserve game. He scored five goals in 12 games for Portland last season.
At six foot one and 210 pounds, Dike is a physical presence. He has “power and pace,” according to Nelsen.
“And he’s got lots of it,” he added.
And with a contract of US$60,6876.50, he will not break the bank.
“He’s a completely different dimension to what we’re going to get and what we have,” said Nelsen. “We don’t have anything like him. He’s at a good age and he’s hungry.”
Originally drafted 12th overall by the Columbus Crew in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, the Oklahoma-born Dike has one cap for the Nigerian national team. He is eligible to play for the African country through his parents, who are both natives of Nigeria.
Dike was of one four players to be announced as the Timbers’ first MLS signings on Oct. 19, 2010. He played collegiately 86 games at Notre Dame, leading the team and the Big East Conference in scoring as a junior and a senior.
Much of this season has been spent by Toronto trying to free itself of the shackles of large, unwieldy contracts. Designated player Torsten Frings retired, as did veteran defender Danny Califf. Captain and defender Darren O’Dea was encouraged to move on, while midfielder Terry Dunfield was one of many players to be released.
Backup goalie Stefan Frei (whose salary is $200,000) and fullback Richard Eckersley ($310,000) are both big-ticket items in a $2.95-million salary cap world although, Frei’s contract expires at the end of the season.
The future of Welsh forward Robert Earnshaw may also be in question, given the arrival of Dike and promise of star strikers to come. At $155,500 and with a proven scoring touch, Earnshaw may be easy to move, with the possibility of a trade to fill in other holes in the lineup.
Portland sees Urruti as a young talent who gives Argentine playmaker Diego Valeri another weapon.
Urruti made 56 appearances and scored 12 goals for Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys from 2010 to 2013.
“Maximiliano is a player we know well, one we feel will be a great fit in our system and scouted extensively prior to him signing with Toronto,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said in a statement. “He is a quality young player who has cut his teeth with one of the top clubs in the Argentine first division.
“Urruti will complement the depth we have in the striker position, and once he is acclimated and match-fit, will bring a dimension to the No. 9 role that we’ve been looking for.”
Toronto hosts the Chicago Fire (10-11-5) on Wednesday.