When Tim Leiweke ditched the glamour of Tinseltown to cast his lot with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. earlier this year, he made no secret of the fact he wanted to raise the star power of Canada’s original Major League Soccer club.
As the man responsible for bringing David Beckham to North America, the former Anschutz Entertainment Group president and chief executive officer knew better than most what top-tier talent could do for his brand, both on and off the field.
Three MLS Cup finals in four years for the Los Angeles Galaxy, including back-to-back championships in 2011 and 2012, and growing the team into what is comfortably the most valuable franchise in MLS, worth in excess of $100-million (U.S.), was proof positive that when it comes to this continent’s premier soccer league, the MLSE president/CEO has seen it, done it and bought the T-shirt.
Yet, that expansive résumé did little to calm a restless Toronto FC fan base as the MLS transfer window closed last Thursday, without the marquee signing Leiweke had made a priority. A deal for Uruguayan star Diego Forlan, currently plying his trade with Internacional in Brazil, has thus far failed to come to fruition despite being agonizingly close, with the 2010 World Cup’s best player reluctant to leave South America in the middle of the season.
Sources maintain the deal may still pan out during the January transfer window, when the Brazilian season will have wrapped up, and, given that TFC is playing out the string once again – sitting third from bottom with just four wins from 23 league games – there was little sense in bringing Forlan into a hopeless situation.
TFC also made overtures toward United States international Clint Dempsey, and while the former Tottenham Hotspur forward ultimately picked the Seattle Sounders because playing back in the U.S. was his No. 1 priority, he said Toronto’s day will come.
“It’s a matter of when, not if,” Dempsey said of TFC acquiring a star name after Seattle’s 2-1 win in Toronto last Saturday. “It’s a great city, we’ve had a good time here and I think anybody would enjoy playing here.”
Dempsey also discussed exactly what goes into the thought process a player goes through before uprooting his life to embark on a new chapter in his career.
“I think what plays a part in people’s decision is: if it’s a place they can see themselves living, how the team’s doing, what players they have, who’s the coach, what style of play he wants to do,” he said.
“Toronto’s in good shape. They’ve got [head coach] Ryan Nelsen, who was a great player, he did really well in Europe and I think the players can learn a lot underneath him and that’s a good selling point. But there’s a lot of things that go into a move and everything has to kind of fit into place and they do have a lot of good selling points here.”
One player who does seem on the verge of officially saying yes to TFC is 22-year-old Argentine striker Maximiliano Urruti, a long-time target who arrived in Toronto this week, and has been training with TFC while a deal is worked out between MLS and his club in Argentina (Newell’s Old Boys).
Given the way the Forlan deal failed to materialize, and TFC’s prior attempts to sign Urruti, Nelsen refused to say much on the impending deal.
“I was told about six months ago that it was done,” he said, “so I can’t say anything at the moment, because things happen and crazy things happen but we’d like to think it’s pretty close to [being] done.”
Having scored just 21 goals so far this season, Toronto could use all the help it can get, and though Urruti’s strike rate of 11 goals in 47 games in Argentina is less-than impressive, the club has watched him enough times to feel confident his production will ramp up once he gets settled in.
“He was a very direct striker, always seemed to get on the end of things,” Nelsen said of his impressions of Urruti when TFC scouted the player. “He had a good work habit, his technical ability is very good, he ticked a lot of boxes. A nice age, when you obviously haven’t seen the best of him, he’s still got a lot to grow.
“At 22, he’s energetic, enthusiastic and a good young player that could be at a club for several years. A lot of clubs were interested and are still interested in Maxi so, hopefully, something can get done ASAP.”