SPORTS

Away from the field, Toronto gets a few perks in Sunderland deal for Defoe

01/18/2015 02:34 EST | Updated 03/20/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - While the final verdict will come on the field, the business side of Toronto FC's ongoing rehaul is probably as good as it gets given the circumstances.

The arrival of U.S. international striker Jozy Altidore and Italian playmaker Sebastian Giovinco, whose signing is expected to be made official at a news conference Monday, means that star midfielder and team lynchpin Michael Bradley is surrounded by young, committed talent locked up for the next four years.

Altidore is 25. Bradley and Giovinco are 27.

Real Betis defender Damien Perquis, a 30-year-old French-born Poland international, remains on the Toronto radar.

Jermain Defoe is back in England, no longer a talented but confusing distraction looking to go home.

On the financial front, there has been confusion over the exact nature of the Altidore-Defoe swap between Sunderland and Toronto.

While Toronto portrayed the deal as a swap with cash considerations, Sunderland told a different story.

"It's a straight player-for-player swap, no transfer fee involved," a Sunderland spokesman told The Canadian Press.

Asked about terms of the transfer, Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko told a news conference introducing Altidore on Friday that he was not permitted to disclose the details.

The Canadian Press has learned the deal is slightly more complicated than the pithy Sunderland summary.

Toronto gets two friendlies for free. And a source confirmed there is a bonus system tied into the number of games played by Altidore and Defoe for their new clubs.

With Altidore expected to miss Toronto games during the Gold Cup slated for July 7-26 — Toronto has four league games scheduled in July — and Defoe facing Cup as well as league play, Toronto expects to come out the better of that deal.

The friendlies and bonus system are expected to net Toronto US$3 million.

And there are an estimated savings of $9 million on the cost of Defoe versus Altidore over the next three years. The MLS Players Union listed Defoe's salary at $6.18 million last season. A source says Altidore's base figure in Toronto starts with a four.

With Giovinco joining Altidore and Bradley as designated players, it looks like Brazilian striker Gilberto will be the odd man out unless something changes. Clubs are currently allowed three DPs although there is the hope that may go up to four, possibly with a variation of the young DP designation.

Since Giovinco is approaching the end of his contract, Toronto does not have to pay a transfer fee. It also means the Italian won't be available to Major League Soccer until July 1.

Thanks to that delay, Toronto's payroll will be a tad less in 2015 than 2014. Defoe plus Gilberto ($1.2 million last season) is more than Altidore and a half-season of Giovinco.

The numbers will be much higher in 2016 but TFC hopes an expanded, improved BMO Field will help pay for the bigger ticket.

There are other caveats.

It's become clear in recent months that MLS, facing worldwide competition including leagues with better credentials, has to over-pay to get top talent to come to North America.

Defoe's original transfer fee to MLS was a reported $10 million. Altidore reportedly Sunderland cost about the same.

But given Altidore's recent scoring slump, he would likely carry a smaller price-tag today that Defoe, a proven Premier League goal-scorer. Toronto also had a lucrative cash offer from another team on the table.

Here's guessing that if Toronto could have unloaded Defoe for more and bought Altidore for less in separate transactions, it would have done so.

Sunderland wanted more production up front. Toronto needed to unload Defoe and get a replacement striker. Hence the deal.

And Bradley, who is clearly driving the TFC bus these days, was on board for Altidore. That should be good news for TFC fans given Bradley's statement last November.

"The goal here is to not just scrape through a season and maybe make the playoffs and maybe not on the last day," Bradley said. "Yeah, we want to make the playoffs but there's much more to it. And to do that, to get to where we want to be, we need more good players and we need more winners, leaders, competitors — guys who come in every day ready to spill everything they have into it.''

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