Toronto FC wasted little time opening the exit door Friday after a second straight disappointing season, saying goodbye to goalkeepers Alex Bono and Quentin Westberg, defender Doneil Henry, midfielder Noble Okello and forward Ifunanyachi Achara.
There are also question marks over whether Canadian international midfielder Jonathan Osorio and veteran centre back Chris Mavinga will be back.
Toronto declined the contract option on the 31-year-old Mavinga, a French-born Congolese international who joined the club prior to the 2017 season, but said it remains in talks about a potential new deal. The club is also in discussions with Osorio, whose contract expires at the end of the year.
Osorio, speaking to media Wednesday at the club’s end-of-season availability, said: “Everything’s an option at this point.”
“Should a good opportunity present itself overseas, if it’s the best option, then I will take it. For me it’s about taking the best option. It’s not about going to Europe because I dreamt about it. It’s about now I think I’m at the point of my career where it has to be the right move.”
Toronto has exercised the contract option on 21-year-old defender Themi Antonoglou while declining Achara’s option.
Bono, Westberg and Okello are also out of contract at the end of the year. Henry remains under contract with MLS after Los Angeles FC waived him in July and the Canadian international will be eligible to go through waivers again.
Toronto (9-18-7) finished out of the playoffs in 13th spot in the Eastern Conference for the second year in a row.
Asked Wednesday if it’s fair to say that the club is looking for help in goal, central defence and striker, head coach Bob Bradley replied “That’s very fair. Very fair.”
The personnel moves shed salary and experience.
Bono and Westberg made a combined US$870,583 this season, with the club allowing 66 goals to tie a franchise record.
“Look, the easiest thing to say about our season is we gave up too many goals,” Bradley, who doubles as Toronto’s sporting director, said Wednesday.
Bradley has acknowledged that the blame for that is not exclusively on the goalkeepers. TFC shot itself in the foot with costly turnovers all over the field, often resulting in defenders chasing attackers as they headed toward goal towards an unprotected ‘keeper.
Osorio, who made $1.026 million this season, leads the club with 318 appearances in all competitions and is tied for third in scoring with 58 goals. The 28-year-old Bono ranks seventh with 157 appearances and is the franchise leader in goalkeeper wins (67) and shutouts (35).
The 36-year-old Westberg, who finished the season as the No. 1, is third in the club record book in goalkeeper wins (28) and fourth in clean sheets (11).
Bono, taken sixth overall in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, and Westberg have vied for the starting position since Westberg joined the club prior to the 2019 season.
In an Instagram post, Bono thanked the city, club and its fans.
“I came to Toronto as a boy. Raw, naive, but ready to work as hard as was necessary to become who I wanted to be. Eight seasons later, my journey in this incredible city has, for now, come to an end,” he wrote.
The only first team ‘keeper still under contract is 29-year-old Greg Ranjitsingh, who has yet to see action for Toronto.
Mavinga ranks eighth on the club list with 153 appearances in all competitions. Another big-ticket item at $1.037 million, Mavinga is an athletic defender whose game can be marred by errors.
Achara missed almost all of his rookie 2020 season with a knee injury. He appeared in 29 league games the last two seasons with two goals and two assists.
The 22-year-old Okello was limited to eight league appearances this season due to injury. Henry arrived in July for his second stint with the club.
There are 21 TFC players currently contractually guaranteed for the 2023 season, including Italians Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Criscito, who arrived midway through the 2022 campaign.
Toronto has a designated player slot open and Bradley said the hope is the club, unlike last season, can fill holes prior to training camp to allow for “starting the season in as strong a way as possible.”
Fullback Richie Laryea’s loan from England’s Nottingham Forest runs through June 2023. Winger Jacob Shaffelburg is on loan with Nashville SC until the end of the 2022 season, with an option for Nashville to make the move permanent.
Toronto has until Nov. 14 to act on the 2023 contract option for Brazilian fullback Auro, currently on loan to Santos FC in Brazil.
Some 20 first team players left the club after a 6-18-10 season in 2021. Designated players Alejandro Pozuelo (traded to Miami) and Carlos Salcedo (returned to Mexico) exited during the 2022 season with midfielder Ralph Priso sent to Colorado in the deal that brought Canadian midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye to Toronto.
Netherlands, Senegal advance out of Group A after wins on final match day
Senegal’s Kalidou Koulibaly, right, celebrates with teammates scoring his side’s second goal during the World Cup group A soccer match between Ecuador and Senegal, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (Francisco Seco/AP)
AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly put his team into the last 16 of the World Cup by volleying home the winner in a 2-1 victory over Ecuador on Tuesday.
Koulibaly scored three minutes after Moises Caicedo had evened the score at 1-1.
In a must-win match for the African champions, Senegal took the lead after a first-half penalty by Ismaila Sarr. Caicedo scored his goal in the 67th.
At 1-1, Ecuador would have advanced from Group A and Senegal would have been eliminated.
The Netherlands beat Qatar 2-0 in the other match to win the group. Senegal finished second while Ecuador and Qatar were eliminated.
Senegal last advanced from the group stage at the 2002 World Cup, when the team reached the quarterfinals in its tournament debut.
Netherlands 2, Qatar 0
AL KHOR, Qatar (AP) — The Netherlands finished off the worst showing by any World Cup host nation by beating Qatar 2-0 on Tuesday.
The Dutch advanced to the round of 16 by winning Group A while the Qataris, who were already eliminated, became the first host to lose all three of its group matches at soccer’s biggest event.
Cody Gakpo put the Netherlands ahead midway through the first half with his third goal in as many matches and Frenkie de Jong doubled the advantage five minutes into the second half.
The Netherlands is a three-time runner-up at the World Cup, and also finished third in 2014, while Qatar was making its tournament debut.
The Dutch failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
The Netherlands finished with seven points at the top of the group. Senegal, which beat Ecuador 2-1 in the other group game, advanced in second place with six points. Ecuador was eliminated with four points and Qatar ended with zero.
The attendance at Al Bayt Stadium, which also hosted Qatar’s loss to Ecuador in the tournament opener, was given as 66,784 — nearly at full capacity. There were small pockets of orange-clad Netherlands supporters, and Qatar fans behind one of the goals who chanted in unison and jumped up and down.
At one point during the second half, Qatar fans held aloft a large Palestinian flag that said “Free Palestine” on it.
In the 26th minute, Gakpo took control outside the area, dribbled forward and unleashed a powerful side-footed shot between two defenders that entered inside the right post.
Gakpo became the fourth Dutch player to score in three consecutive World Cup games after Johan Neeskens (1974), Dennis Bergkamp (1994) and Wesley Sneijder (2010). He also became only the second player to open the scoring for his team three times in the same group stage after Alessandro Altobelli for Italy in 1986.
De Jong’s goal came when he sprinted forward uncontested to knock in a rebound from close range following a shot from Memphis Depay.
A possible third goal for the Netherlands by Steven Berghuis was waved off following a video review for a handball in the buildup.
Berghuis then hit the bar in added time.
While the Netherlands dominated the possession and created many more chances, Qatar did push forward on occasion and there was a nervy moment for the Dutch when goalkeeper Andries Noppert had trouble collecting a long-range shot from Ismael Mohamed after Gakpo’s goal.
Gakpo drew level with France standout Kylian Mbappé and Ecuador veteran Enner Valencia atop the tournament scoring chart.
For club and country in all competitions this season, Gakpo has been involved in 35 goals in 29 appearances with 17 goals scored and 18 assists.
That should make the 23-year-old PSV Eindhoven forward the target for an expensive transfer in the upcoming months.
‘We came to make history’: Canada hoping to achieve more firsts at World Cup
UMM SALAL, Qatar – Even if Canada can’t advance to the knockout stage, a strong finish to the World Cup will have lasting ramifications.
Thursday’s game against Morocco simultaneously means nothing from a Canadian perspective, but the players know that it’s imperative that they close out the tournament by achieving another first.
“We came here to the World Cup to make history,” said Alphonso Davies after training on Tuesday. “First game didn’t go our way, we played well but we didn’t get the three points we wanted. I’m happy to put my name in the history books [versus Croatia], we showed the quality but definitely, in this third game, we want to finish with three points.”
“This group has been chasing and reaching history throughout this journey,” stated midfielder Jonathan Osorio. “There’s a lot of records that were broken and we’ll continue going on that journey.”
It’s vitally important that Canada doesn’t close out the World Cup with a whimper. Sure, losing the first two matches and ending any hopes of reaching the knockout stage is a disappointment, as Osorio pointed out, but every casual or hardcore fan will remember this tournament a lot more fondly if it ends on a high.
“We do believe that we are good enough to pass through to the next round,” said Osorio. “Unfortunately the results didn’t go our way but I think we put together two pretty good performances.”
In fairness to Canada, the final 25 minutes of the first half in the Croatia defeat were horrific. But they responded well after halftime until Andrej Kramaric completed his brace.
Morocco won’t be an easy test, either, having drawn Croatia and beaten Belgium to line itself up for a possible appearance in the last 16.
But there’s no doubt that Canada’s first appearance at a men’s World Cup in 36 years will be a boon for the sport.
It starts with the players. Alistair Johnston is close to joining Scottish champions Celtic, who will participate in the Champions League if it goes back-to-back in the Premiership. Ismael Kone has been linked to several clubs in Europe as well.
“Each and every guy on this team has the potential to play in the top five leagues in the world,” said Davies.
“The quality we have in this team is tremendous. I feel that is definitely showing itself in their abilities on this stage.”
Plus there are the future stars of tomorrow who will be even more motivated to pursue soccer as a sport having seen their heroes square off against the best in the world.
“We’re hoping that the dream of the Canadian kid starts to evolve,” said Osorio. “It’s not a dream of making the World Cup. It’s a dream of getting past the first round, getting to the semifinals, getting to the final and someday winning the World Cup, why not?”
Scoring the first goal in men’s national team history at a World Cup will go a long way toward achieving that goal. A win over Morocco to cap off the first appearance in 36 years would be even greater.
From there, strong showings at the 2023 Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup will only prepare the team for a historic World Cup at home in 2026.
World Cup Iran-US: Why Iran gave the US players flowers in 1998
Amid harsh barbs and heated geopolitics, the last World Cup match-up between Iran and the United States began with an unlikely gesture – bouquets of white flowers.
The flowers, Iran’s coach later said, were meant as a symbol of peace ahead of the 1998 showdown in France.
Two decades later, political tensions were again high ahead of the Iran-US game in Qatar.
The previous match, held in Lyon, came 20 years after diplomatic relations between the two nations were severed as a result of the storming of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 and subsequent 444 day hostage crisis.
Just one month before kick-off, the US State Department labelled Iran the world’s “most active” state sponsor of terrorism, while several high-level Iranian officials kept up a steady drumbeat of anti-US rhetoric.
Despite the tensions evident in the halls of the United Nations and in the Persian Gulf, Iran’s players – led by California-based manager Jalal Talebi – decided to start the match with a signal that the only competition between the two would be on the pitch.
“We decided to make something special,” Mr Talebi said in an oral history of the match produced by ESPN.
“Let us go inside and give them nice flowers to say that we are here for peace. We are not here for fighting or anything.”
The US team reciprocated, giving their opponents US Soccer Federation (USSF) pennants. Together, the squads posed for a group picture, with many of the players smiling ahead of the high-pressure match.
“I thought that was great,” Cobi Jones, then a midfielder for the US team, said in the ESPN report.
“It’s just like a sign of like sport trumping politics and all that. That was very important and having the mixed photo was great.”
The days leading up to the World Cup rematch on Tuesday between the two teams were once again marked by tensions, coming amid widespread anti-government protests in Iran and just after the USSF removed the emblem of the Islamic Republican from the flag it posted in online graphics.
The pictures were later deleted, and US manager Gregg Berhalter apologised, saying that “sometimes things are out of our control” and that he and the US team were only focused on football.
The US team went into the match hoping to avoid a repeat of the 1998 game, which ended with a 2-1 victory for Iran, though both countries were eliminated from the tournament after the game.
Alexi Lalas, a Fox Sports commentator who was a member of the 1998 team, told the Associated Press that the current US team would be well advised not to ignore the wider geopolitics surrounding the current match.
“Understanding the importance of this game, not just from a soccer perspective but from a cultural perspective, I think is crucial for the United States,” he said, addressing what would motivate the US on the pitch.
The US-Iran match in Qatar ended 1-0 in the Americans’ favour after a goal from Christian Pulisic in the 38th minute.
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