Empire XI: The Pros and Cons of Selling Jermain Defoe

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

By CHRISTIAN ARAOS
Columnist

The rapidly formed maelstrom that swept across Toronto FC in recent weeks has already claimed Tim Leiweke and Ryan Nelson as victims. By the end of the afternoon, we will find out if Jermain Defoe becomes the third victim as rumors of a return to England have intensified since Sunday.

The only shocking thing about Toronto’s decision to fire Nelson yesterday was its timing. Although, firing a head coach with ten games remaining in a season may be a sign that the organization is not particularly well run, missing the Playoffs after spending $100 million in the offseason is a far more damning event. The same can be said if Toronto chooses to sell Defoe.

The biggest issue there would be with Toronto’s decision to sell Defoe would be optics. Although Defoe would be the second player to transfer in and out of MLS this season, he would not be leaving with as many good graces as Giancarlo Gonzalez left the Columbus Crew with when he went to Palermo, even though his reported transfer fee is more than double Gonzalez’s. Part of the reason why that’s the case is the rumors that Defoe wants out and it does not help that his groin strain is so bothersome that he has to seek a second opinion right around transfer deadline day. One can’t help but wonder if the physician he is consulting in London happens to be contracted to Queens Park Rangers.

The particulars of Defoe’s departure contribute towards the bad optics of it but the departure itself contributes the most towards shaping the perception of it. If Defoe leaves, it would be less than nine months after his introduction became a “Bloody Big Deal.” In that time, Defoe scored 11 goals in 15 starts to lead become the team’s leading scorer. Together with Michael Bradley, he drove a resurgence of local interest in the club that led to a nearly 25% raise in attendance for this season. If he leaves for the Premier League, the fans that he attracted to come to BMO Field may follow, along with more disillusioned fans.

The greater source of potential disillusionment would be if Toronto fails to make the Playoffs. Defoe is obviously the key figure for the team in attack but Gilberto—another DP—and Luke Moore are more than suitable replacements. Their midfield like the rest of the teams that are near the red line in the Eastern Conference has its flaws but it’s their defense that could be what leads to their demise this season.

Although Monday is transfer deadline day, it is not the last day to make moves in MLS. The roster freeze in MLS does not take place until the 15th. If Defoe leaves for the reported sum of $11 million,  Toronto would receive about $600,000 in allocation money, more than enough for the team to use in trade negotiations. The club needs an experienced central defender so that it can move Bradley Orr back to fullback and guide young center backs Doneil Henry and Nick Hagglund. Even if the trade is for a rental, it would stabilize the backline for the handful of games left in the regular season and probably secure a playoff berth. The additional $5-6 million would go a long way into developing the club’s infrastructure or at least help pay for the planned renovations at BMO Field.

Ultimately, the biggest impact of the Defoe transfer would have to be the short term one if Toronto want to reduce the negative perception that would arise if they sold Defoe. Although Defoe’s stay in Toronto would be seen as a disaster, failing to make the Playoffs would be the true disaster.

Empire XI

1. Speaking of disasters, the New York Red Bulls backline played too high and too narrow yesterday against DC United. The athletic striker pairing of Luis Silva and Fabian Espindola were able to get behind Ibrahim Sekagya and Jamison Olave frequently but failed to create enough chances until the second half when Silva took advantage of Sekagya’s misplay. When Eddie Johnson was introduced, DC United finally had a true target man to orient their attacks around and that made them more likely to double their lead than the Red Bulls were to equalize.

2. Now the Red Bulls are below the red line with nine games remaining and with two massive home games coming up against Sporting Kansas City and DC United. If the Red Bulls fail to win any of those games, you have permission to panic.

3. There is a relative sense of panic with Sporting Kansas City as well after giving up three goals in two successive home losses for the first time in Sporting Park. Unlike the Red Bulls, Sporting’s crisis is far more likely to be temporary. SKC are trying to cope without an injury-bothered Paulo Nagamura and are trying to integrate Jorge Claros and Martin Steuble into the first team. Whenever a team has to redo two-thirds of its midfield so late in the season, there are bound to be issues.

4. Before Sporting KC heads to Red Bull Arena, they will face a revitalized New England Revolution team who have a decision to make. Start Scott Caldwell and go with an unchanged side after such a good performance against Toronto FC or give Jermaine Jones his first start in the type of game that warrants top performances from Designated Players.

5. If the Revolution come away with a win against SKC, they will be five points above the red line coming into a must-win game on Sunday night against the Chicago Fire. If other results go their way, the Revolution would enter Sunday’s game with a chance to be eight points clear in the playoff race. Exactly, the reason why beating a non-playoff team at this time of year is so critical.

6. A similar situation for the Seattle Sounders who have a midweek game against Chivas USA. With the Supporters Shield race likely to remain as tight as it is for the rest of the season, the Sounders cannot drop points to non-playoff teams, especially considering they only have two games left against them.

7. If you want an accurate account of how the Superclasico was as a rivalry between the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA, watch the highlights of yesterday’s match, the last in a series in which the Galaxy earned 67 out of a possible 93 points.

8. It looks like Obafemi Martins‘ goal against the Portland Timbers and Robbie Keane‘s goal from yesterday are the two most likely candidates for goal of the year.

9. Although the Timbers did get embarrassed by the Sounders, they responded well to record a huge 3-0 win against the Vancouver Whitecaps last weekend to take fifth place in the Western Conference. Unless the Colorado Rapids heat up, these two teams are going to compete for the final playoff spot. The two teams meet in Portland on Saturday the 20th.

10. Jordan Morris is going to have the most scrutinized sophomore season in recent college soccer history. The writing on the wall is clear. US Men’s National Team Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has Morris in his plans for the 2018 World Cup cycle but only if Morris goes pro. That being said, a degree from Stanford University is not something to take lightly.

11. Whether or not Morris gets a cap remains to be seen but it will be intriguing to see how Julian Green is used and how he performs on Wednesday against the Czech Republic. Green is no longer a wild card, he is a full intentional and is going to have to be seen as just another player in the pool. There is nothing special about him now, perfect circumstances for him to establish himself for the future.