LETTERS FROM CAMP: Zavaleta in, Gilberto probably out.
Finally it’s here, the first day of camp, a time to be all excited about re-uniting with old friends and making new ones. To be wide eyed at the thought of the amazing adventures that everyone’s going to have together, whilst being apprehensive of the challenges that are sure to come as we all head into the unknown together. This year there is of course an all american theme to the camp, with Tim, Robin and ‘Uncle’ Greg as the camp counsellors, and Jozy and Michael the rich kids slumming it for the chance to work with and inspire a ragtag bunch of misfits. Hilarity will no doubt ensue. Yes, everyone is finally together and after awkwardly coughing for the doctors, today was the first training session, under the bubble at Downsview before camp fully gets underway down in Florida.
New faces? Check, Damien Perquis was there as expected. Absences? Check. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore weren’t there as they’re off at the USMNT camp cupcake and neither was Jackson who’s in Brazil, awaiting a new baby at any time now. Sadly, also absent was Gilberto as he too is staying in Brazil rather than reporting back to Toronto. Any hopes that there might be a way in the new CBA to keep him around should probably be quietly put to bed; he’s gone, it’s just a question of where exactly he ends up. TFC say they have a few offers for him, so more than likely he’ll be sold to somewhere outside of MLS, which is probably for the best as I do think he’d be one of those players who’d come back and bite us if we had to play him again at his new club. It’s a shame it ended this way, I looked forward to watching him with a season under his belt and without Jermain Defoe related complications. Ah well, godspeed Ol’ Gil, wherever you end up next may you slay that wolf at your door and finally get a lick at that brass ring.
There was also a new face that people weren’t expecting as news came out of a trade this morning. TFC sending a 2016 2nd round SuperDraft pick to Seattle for Eriq Zavaleta. ‘Hmm, sounds familiarish, who’s he then?’ I hear you say. Well go back to 2013’s SuperDraft where Kevin Payne (but not Ryan Nelsen he was still playing for QPR at the time) went in with the number 1 and 3 pick. Zavaleta was a highly touted pick after an impressive college career that he ended 2 years early, signing a Generation Adidas contract. The fact that he could play as either a centre forward or a centre back was either a good thing or a bad thing depending on who you listened to, either useful versatility offering all sorts of options, or a worrying lack of a specialty that suggested he wouldn’t be good enough at either one.
Anyway, TFC and everyone else mocked the mock drafts and he slipped down the board a bit. TFC had already used their number 3 pick on Bekker and traded the number 1 pick down twice to get some allocation money and were set to pick 10th. Instead they traded that 10th pick to Seattle for the 16th pick and more allocation money. Seattle used that 10th pick on Zavaleta.
It didn’t really work out for him at Seattle, either up front or at the back, though to be fair, it’s a tough team to break into, and after a mere 31 minutes of first team time, he was sent on loan to MLS’ own particular purgatory, Chivas USA for the 2014 season. There, he got in over 1300 minutes of time, as Chivas’ 3rd centre back option. Here’s the Goat Parade’s assessment of his time there. These 2 paragraphs in particular stand out.
But Zavaleta seemed to have the tools to develop as an MLS-caliber centerback, possessing speed and ability to recover, especially when paired with a slow but smart partner in Bocanegra. When he played alongside Jean-Baptiste, both players seemed to suffer from a lack of knowledge and were often caught out of position as they tried to fling themselves after plays, only to fail to recognize the second option lurking just beyond.
So he often performed at the level of his partner — with a steady, experienced veteran, his play was strong more often than not, but with a relative newcomer, he looked out of his depth. But nonetheless, given these reps it appears he has the tools to develop into a pretty decent defender, and probably within a couple of years given the right situation.
Given TFC now have both Steven Caldwell and Damien Perquis to fill the role of steady experienced veteran, that actually sounds quite promising – as long as they don’t both get injured at the same time.
Chivas of course died a slow and ignominious death and so Zavaleta went back to Seattle rather than into the re-entry draft. Unfortunately his Generation Adidas deal lived up to Paul Mariner’s ticking timebomb description and when the time came for it to expire, Seatttle didn’t want to keep him around. So now here he is, judged to be worth a 2nd round pick. Last year he was on $75,000 base and $105,600 guaranteed, hopefully that number will come down a bit as it usually does when the GA deal expires.
I think Zavaleta probably slots into the depth chart alongside or behind Nick Hagglund, but ahead of the draft picks. This type of player is just the sort of person you realistically want in that place, someone who can come in and do a job, and has the potential to improve and maybe develop into a first teamer somewhere down the line. And also someone who can play forward in a pinch if we’re really stuck for ideas and need a threat off the bench or something.
The other thing to note about Zavaleta is that’s he’s Greg Vanney’s nephew. Let’s hope the potential nepotism charges inspire him to work harder to prove them wrong.
Other minor notes from post training reporter tweets, what would a good camp be without a potential conflict to fester, then be worked out in a heartwarming fashion with everyone coming out of it stronger:
Vanney doesn’t rule out Giovinco coming before July. Non-committal on who’ll be captain. Says team must be roster compliant by March. #TFC
— John Molinaro (@JohnMolinaro) January 26, 2015
Caldwell said he’d be disappointed if captaincy taken away from him. #TFC
— John Molinaro (@JohnMolinaro) January 26, 2015
I don’t see any reason for them to take it from Caldwell, though of course it’s been made abundantly clear this last two weeks that this is ‘Bradley’s team’ so who knows, I just hope that gets sorted quickly.
So there we have it, all of a sudden, the defence is bolstered with another experienced starter, and another body for depth. Greg Vanney told reporters after training that they’re not likely to add any more pieces at the back, and if that’s the case, well it’s not ideal unless some of the draftees prove themselves worthy, but it could be a lot worse really. Not a bad first day of camp at all.
Meanwhile, Andrew Wiedeman’s Great Canadian Caper continues, as he’s just been announced as signing with the NASL’s Ottawa Fury. Good for him.