Toronto FC continued its remake Wednesday, dealing forward Ryan Johnson and goalkeeper Milos Kocic to the Portland Timbers.
In exchange, the worst team in MLS gets goalkeeper Joe Bendik, the third overall pick in the 2013 SuperDraft and allocation money.
The deal allows TFC (5-21-8 last season) to tick off a few boxes on its off-season to-do list.
It offers Toronto flexibility while moving on two players who were looking for a new start. In trading Johnson, Toronto also trims its salary cap — the 28-year-old Jamaican international made US$137,813 last season.
The allocation room allows TFC to “pay down” salary under the cap — in other words, list a player’s salary at less than the actual amount on his paycheque.
And now holding the first and third overall picks in the January draft, it has options.
“We need to manage our (salary) cap a little bit, but at the same time get younger, get probably more athletic,” Earl Cochrane, Toronto’s director of team and player operations, said in an interview. “And many times both of those things help each other out.”
Cochrane believes there is talent to be had in the draft.
“Between (picks) one and 10, teams are going to be able to get some very good players that are going to be able to help them out,” he said.
“Now that we’re one and three, I think we’re going to be able to do something that will definitely help us out — if that’s what we choose to do. As of right now, we’re pretty happy with where we sit.”
There will be more changes, Cochrane said, but the focus will likely switch to players coming in rather than going out.
An ironman for the team, Johnson played 31 regular-season games with seven goals for Toronto in 2012. But the losing season seemed to take its toll. In the early stages of the campaign, Johnson was often one of the team’s most open voices. By the end, he was done talking.
His work ethic was always evident, however. Even if it was not reflected in his goals total.
Portland sees Johnson — who played collegiate soccer at Oregon State — as someone who can help now.
“After weighing our immediate needs and evaluating the college pool, we felt it was in the club’s best interest to give up a draft pick to secure a talented goal-scorer and an experienced player like Ryan,” Timbers GM Gavin Wilkinson said in a statement.
“He adds another weapon to our attacking group and can create goals in a number of ways.”
The 27-year-old Kocic for the 23-year-old Bendik is a swap of backup goalies, although not in the mind of Kocic. Both players made around $44,000 last season with the Serbian Kocic, now the father of triplets, looking for a raise.
While Kocic played 27 league games in relief of the injured Stefan Frei, the team has made no secret that Frei will go into camp as No. 1. The Kocic move also frees up an international spot on the Toronto roster.
Like Johnson, Kocic seemed to get ground down by a season that saw Toronto yield a franchise-worst 62 goals. For many weeks, he came across as the conscience of the club. But by the end, with Kocic’s attention focused on his family, Toronto was playing Freddy Hall.
In Portland, Kocic gets his wish to compete for the No. 1 position currently held by 35-year-old Donovan Ricketts, whose salary last season was listed at $275,000.
“It’s a beautiful city, good crowd and everything,” Kocic said of Portland. “It’s going to be interesting.
“New coach (Caleb Porter) there, it’s good for me,” he added. “I can fight from scratch now for my No. 1 spot. In Toronto, Stef is guaranteed (the starting position) and over there it’s not.”
The move reunites Kocic with Mike Toshack, who was Toronto’s goalkeeping coach from 2009 to 2011 when he joined Portland.
Bendik played in five games for Portland last season, with three starts. Prior to signing with the Timbers in February, the American ’keeper played his first two pro seasons with Songdal in Norway.
Since the end of the season, Toronto has declined the options on goalkeeper Hall, defenders Adrian Cann, Ty Harden, Jeremy Hall and Dicoy Williams, midfielder Oscar Cordon, and forwards Nicholas Lindsay and Keith Makubuya.
Cann, Harden, Jeremy Hall, midfielder Eric Avila and forward Andrew Wiedeman are eligible for Friday’s second stage of the MLS re-entry draft.
It has also acquired forward Justin Braun from Real Salt Lake in exchange for defender Aaron Maund.
Kevin Payne, Toronto’s newly minted president and general manager, was not made available by the club after the trade. But he offered some insight in the trade via a statement.
“We have a lot of work to do, from a roster and a salary cap standpoint, and this is a first step. Our objective is to put together a group of young, talented, athletic and hungry players that we can keep together for years to come.
“We are trying to develop a new culture and philosophy at Toronto FC and we want to assemble a group which will buy into that approach absolutely.”
Cochrane said the mention of “a new culture” was not intended as a specific reference to Johnson and Kocic.
Both players, however, may be best served by the change in scenery.
Kocic, who has been training with his friend Frei, leaves with a smile.
“I just wanna say thank you to all the TFC fans, players, and coaches that I had a pleasure to work with in past 3 years,” he tweeted.
“I’ll always remember my time in TO! Good luck next season to Toronto!”
Portland (8-16-10) has been making moves of late.
The Timbers previously acquired defender Michael Harrington and Canadian international midfielder Will Johnson and traded defenders Kosuke Kimura and Eric Brunner.
Also Wednesday, Portland re-signed forward Danny Mwanga, the first overall draft pick in the 2010 draft. Born in Congo, Mwanga attended high school in Portland and played at Oregon State.
The Timbers also announced Wednesday they had traded their third-overall position in the allocation ranking and either a 2013 international roster spot or a second-round pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft to Chivas USA for the second-overall position in the allocation ranking.
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