After a relatively quiet winter transfer window, MLS has jumped straight into the summer market. Though July 15 is the official opening date of the summer window, at least one club has jumped out early in the hopes of turning around their difficult season. Toronto FC have already had a busy season, trading Canadian international, and Toronto native, Dwayne De Rosario within the first five games of the year. Under new manager (their sixth in their five-year history) Aron Winter, Toronto have struggled and before their victory over Canadian rivals Vancouver Whitecaps on June 29 were second from bottom in MLS. Earlier in the day on the 29th Toronto grabbed all the headlines in North America by announcing the dual signing of Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans.
Under MLS’s Designated Player rules (vaguely similar to the Marquee Player system in Australia’s A-League) clubs can have up to three players whose salaries are allowed to far exceed the league-mandated salary cap. This rule, often colloquially referred to as the Beckham Rule, is in place to provide an incentive to international, or returning American/Canadian star players as well as provide positive press and hopefully ability on the pitch. Some Designated Players, David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Ángel, have been quite successful on the field and in attracting international notoriety for MLS. Others, such as Luis Landin, have been an embarrassment to clubs and the league. Toronto already have one DP in their side with Canadian international, and another Toronto native, Julian de Guzman. Only LA Galaxy have three DPs (Beckham, Landon Donovan and now Ángel) so Toronto is making a bold move to dramatically improve their on-field play, even if at the expense of longer term prospects. Frings is already 34 and will be 35 before the 2012 season begins. Koevermans is 33 and will be 34 in the fall. These moves need to make the Reds dramatically better over the second half of this season in order to justify the expense.
Torsten Frings is best known in the United States for his handball in the 2002 World Cup. Koevermans is relatively unknown in North America, outside of dedicated followers of the Eredivisie. But both are absolutely quality players who should have an immediate impact at the MLS level. Toronto are six points short of an automatic playoff position (finishing in the top three in the Eastern Conference) and just a point shy of a wild card position. Even marginal increases in quality should give the Reds an opportunity to compete with the likes of Portland Timbers, DC United, Houston Dynamo, Chivas USA and Sporting KC for the right to qualify for the playoffs.
What is intriguing for MLS though is the prospect of a free-spending league in this summer window. Outside of the top four (LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake) every club could stand to substantially improve. With Toronto showing that even one of the least relevant clubs in the league can make an enormous splash, there is a real possibility of other clubs bringing in big name, and more importantly, high level talents in July. Frings and Koevermans cannot actually play for Toronto until after that July 15 deadline, and they will debut on July 20 against FC Dallas. Expect other clubs to be making moves and signing players, though not necessarily holding press conferences for another week to ten days. MLS is increasingly seen as a league on the rise. If Toronto, a club that has never qualified for the playoffs, can attract the likes of Frings and Koevermans, this summer could be very exciting indeed.