Jermain Defoe reportedly passed a medical in Sunderland on Wednesday. And two sources with knowledge of the deal said Black Cats striker Jozy Altidore will become a Toronto FC player.
The U.S. international, who has agreed to terms, is due in Toronto on Thursday for a medical with a contract signing to follow if all goes well.
There was no official word from either club or Major League Soccer as of Wednesday evening.
Altidore had to go through the MLS allocation process designed to regulate the return of U.S. internationals or certain other players to the North American league — although the rules have been somewhat fluid recently when the players involved have star power.
Toronto currently stands sixth on the list, behind the Montreal Impact, San Jose Earthquakes, Colorado Rapids, Chicago Fire and Houston Dynamo.
That's not a barrier if the clubs above elect to pass on Altidore, given their current roster and his high salary cost. They can retain their position in the allocation ladder by simply standing aside.
Teams can also trade their position in the allocation rankings.
But in a league that sticks its finger into every pie, there may have been concern about Altidore joining fellow U.S. international star Michael Bradley north of the border.
Altidore, a New Jersey native, made his pro debut in 2006 at just 16 with the New York Red Bulls — the same franchise that lost its marquee player, Thierry Henry, to retirement in the off-season.
With the arrival of a second team in the Big Apple in the form of expansion New York City FC, there is incentive for the league to ensure that the Red Bulls remain vibrant.
Defoe was just part of the Sunderland deal. Toronto's goal was to swap strikers with cash coming back to Canada to help fund the acquisition of other players.
A source said Toronto had its eye on two possible attacking midfielders currently playing in Europe.
Juventus' Sebastian Giovinco, out of contract at the end of the season, was reportedly one target. But he has been linked to a move to Monaco.
Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney, in Philadelphia with other club officials for Thursday's MLS SuperDraft, said he had asked to stay out of the blow-by-blow developments of the Defoe-Altidore deal.
"Honestly, this thing changes every 15 minutes," he told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. "I really truly don't know exactly where it is at this moment."
"We're hoping something get sorted out sooner rather than later," he added. "The cloudiness is enough already for me."
Unlike North American wheeling and dealings where contracts move with the player, soccer transactions outside MLS require both clubs to strike an agreement and for the player (s) involved to agree to terms with the new club.
It is less complicated if the player is out of contract, which is not the case with Defoe or Altidore.
A source said the Sunderland deal was not Defoe's first choice. The former Tottenham and West Ham player preferred another deal on the table — it's believed he had wanted to land with a London-area team.
The presence of Sunderland manager Gus Poyet, a former Tottenham player and assistant manager, may have tipped the scales — along with the club's reported willingness to keep Defoe's rich paycheque coming.
Sunderland (3-7-11) currently stands 16th in the Premier League, just two positions and a single point above the drop zone.
With 18 goals in 21 games, Sunderland needs scoring help. Only Aston Villa, with 11 goals in 21 games, has scored less in England's top tier.
While the 25-year-old Altidore had a fine scoring record in the Netherlands prior to joining Sunderland, England has proved a different story.
A Sky Sports graphic notes that Defoe has 124 goals in 391 Premier League games for a strike rate of one goal every 3.1 games. In contrast, Altidore has two goals in 68 games for a strike rate of one in 34.
Adding spice to the proposed swap is U.S. national team coach Juergen Klinsmann, who told SI.com that while it was Altidore's decision, he would rather the striker stay in Europe "because I think he's a Champions League player. He has that potential, the talent to do so."
"Now if there is no solution in Europe for him, if the next solution for him is MLS, that's totally cool with me. I have no problem with that."
Altidore has 25 goals in 76 appearances for the U.S. national team.
He joined Sunderland in July 2013 for six million pounds (C$10.9 million) after scoring 38 goals in 67 appearances for Dutch club AZ Alkmaar.
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