Leaving snow and bitter cold for the Orlando sunshine is one reason for the happy face. But off the field, pieces have been falling into place for an MLS franchise still looking for a winning formula in its ninth season.
Polish international defender Damien Perquis and veteran French midfielder Benoit Cheyrou both joined the club this week, adding skill and big-league experience from Europe in key positions.
And a source confirmed Friday that Toronto is close to getting star playmaker Sebastian Giovinco earlier than expected.
The 28-year-old Juventus forward is expected to arrive in time for the start of the season. Toronto announced the signing of Giovinco on Jan. 19 but said then that the five-foot-four Italian would come to MLS in July once his current contract expires.
Giovinco, known as the Atomic Ant, has seen limited action with Juventus in recent days and his early arrival should be confirmed early next week.
Having Giovinco for a full season will add to an already hefty payroll, but should not impact the salary cap since only a small amount of his pay as a designated player counts against the cap. More importantly, it will allow Toronto to immediately plug the Italian star into the lineup and start building around him.
GM Tim Bezbatchenko was out of town Friday and head coach Greg Vanney said he could not confirm a date for Giovinco's arrival.
"Obviously I'm optimistic," said Vanney. "I'd love to be able to plug him into the team starting with the first game of the year."
Toronto opens March 7 in Vancouver.
Giovinco is expected to play in the hole behind newly acquired American international striker Jozy Altidore. The 33-year-old Cheyrou will slot in beside U.S. lynchpin Michael Bradley in central midfield while Perquis and Scottish veteran Steven Caldwell anchor the defence.
The goal will be to find space for Giovinco to work his magic between the opposition midfield and backline.
Toronto will look to Brazil's Jackson, Canadian Jonathan Osorio, Daniel Lovitz and veteran Robbie Findley to patrol the flanks. There are younger options as well, like newly signed homegrown player Jay Chapman and Vanney even had teenage striker Jordan Hamilton seeing time on the wing Friday, but Bezbatchenko may well look to add another winger.
The 30-year-old Perquis and Cheyrou are expected to join the team in Orlando, as are draft picks Micheal Ramos and Salvador Bernal. Brazilian winger Jackson remains at home, awaiting the birth of his child.
Gilberto is also back in Brazil awaiting his fate. The Brazilian striker is the odd man out with Toronto, which is one over the limit of three designated players.
Bradley and Altidore are with the U.S. national team and are not expected to join the team until Feb. 9 when the squad returns to Toronto for training. The team goes back to Florida on Feb. 16 and will be based out of Bradenton until its return March 1.
Adding experience was a key goal for Toronto in the off-season. The feeling was the club had good young talent, but had to rely on some of it too much last season.
Vanney, during his time at Bastia, played against Cheyrou in France and said he got word of the Frenchman's interest in coming to North America through Laurent Courtois, a mutual friend and former MLS player.
"We're very very happy that we managed to pull it off and get him," said Vanney. "He's an outstanding player who's won championships, with an immense amount of experience."
Cheyrou is a left-foot midfielder who works hard on and off the ball, with a "range of passing that is second to none," according to Vanney.
"He hits the 30-, 40-yard ball across the field like it's a five-yard pass."
Cheyrou will be especially important in July when Bradley is expected to be away with the U.S. team at the Gold Cup. Vanney made a point of including Collen Warner in his discussions about the midfield Friday, signalling that the five-year MLS veteran will also have a role to play.
"We'll have an interesting midfield, no matter how it shapes up," said Vanney.
"We have some dangerous guys in a lot of places," he added.
The team has the day off Saturday before boarding a plane Sunday to the Sunshine State.
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