The salary cap has existed in professional North American sports since the 1984-85 NBA season when they adopted a strict cap of $3.5 Million a team per season. Since then, a number of leagues have implemented similar systems including the NHL, NFL, CFL, a number of World Rugby Leagues, Aussie Rule Football and of course Major League Soccer. Mistakes in managing a salary cap are frequent and with the amount of money now being thrown around you see a number of horrible one-off deals. When evaluating the history of the salary cap in team sports, it could be argued that Toronto FC has been the worst club ever in managing this type of system.
Failing to make the playoffs, over a seven year period that has included a total of 50 wins, shows this ineptness, but even more damaging to Toronto’s past management is that during this time TFC had one of the highest payrolls in the league. Since 2007, Toronto FC has paid players a guaranteed salary of $33,202,884. This is third highest behind Los Angeles (which includes the Beckham, Keane & Donovan contracts) and the New York Red Bulls (this includes Henry, Cahill and Marquez contracts). In comparison, playoff regulars Seattle totaled $24,761,713 (including Dempsey), Real Salt Lake $20,071,454, Houston $20,411,038 and San Jose $16,942,986. The only team comparable to Toronto is Chicago who have spent $32,399,721, but have also made the playoffs four times and won 133 regular season games over the same period of time.
In analyzing this history of failure is the amount of money Toronto was willing to give players, or accept bad contracts from other clubs in the league. DP's have taken a big cut of the total with Danny Koevermans getting a guaranteed $4.6M, Julian De Guzman another $4.6M, and Torsten Frings $3.5M, and we can't forget Mista who was given $987,337 to play nine games and then retire from football. These four players combined for 134 career Toronto FC games, scoring a combined 22 goals with Kovemans getting 17 of them. I would say that many clubs have had issues with DP's, evaluating DP's value, and they have been one of the worst investments on the pitch. However, regarding MLS, what it meant off the pitch might be another story.
I can forgive Toronto FC for overspending on DP's, but some of the contracts they gave for other players to join the club is a greater issue. For example, English Championship skilled players such as Carl Robinson, who was given $315K, and in his career $960K, for 74 games and later played 12 games with New York before he retired. $436K to Darren O'Dea for 26 games and who is now in the Ukraine, and not to mention the first signing, Jim Brennan who played 84 games and made $534K in three seasons. They spent a further $212K for Rohan Ricketts, who after his 39 games with Toronto, has traveled the world playing non-league quality football. Andrew Welsh was on for $205K, who after his 20 games in Toronto continued his career in the English third division of football. This trend continued this season, and even Robert Earnshaw's $155K a year is more reasonable, but at that price there should be better options.
Outside the lower leagues of England, TFC hasn't done any better with players such as Carlos Ruiz getting $460K, Pablo Vitti $303K, Laurent Robert $250K, Peri Marosevic $129K, and Collin Samuel $115K. All of whom never proved to be worth those salaries with Toronto, or since leaving the club. Newer signings Alvaro Rey on $200K, Jeremy Brockie $175K, Jonas Elmer on $130K are also in this salary range. We have yet to see what Rey and Elmer could do, but based on Toronto's track record of signing, over paying and being disappointed by the results, it doesn't look good.
Toronto has also have had a history of taking bad contracts from other MLS clubs. The worst probably being the Eric Hassli deal with Vancouver which included next year's first round pick in return. However, in terms of cap space, others caused similar problems regarding team development, including taking $270K of salary for Ronnie O'Brien, $232K for Jeff Cunningham, $200K for Nick Garcia, $150K for Tyrone Marshall and $131K for Adrian Serioux. These players all gave minutes but didn't prove to be the permanent piece expected with these type of salaries. A good example of this in 2013 is Bobby Convey who is currently on $215K guarantee salary. Despite his improving play, Toronto is still not getting what is expected from a player in that salary range.
Finally, Toronto FC has given lucrative contracts to players that went beyond the player's value. Chad Barrett was paid $61K in 2008 and then paid $202K by Toronto in 2009 and 2010. A more recent case is Richard Eckersley going from $90K in 2011, which was the top range for a full back, and is currently on $300K, while Stefen Frei’s salary has consistently risen from $120K in 2009 to $200k this season, despite being plagued by injuries.
The reality is this is not only a Toronto FC concern, as American/Canadian based players will get salary increases each season based on how many years they have played in the league. However, team management needs to be aware of this and not overvalue players purely based on loyalty.
Players currently in the $200K range in MLS include Sebastian Le Toux, Nat Bochers, Nick Rimando, Osvaldo Alonso, Claudio Bieler and Mike Magee to name a few, while Toronto FC killers Dominic Oduro and C.J. Sapong are on $122K and $92K respectfully.
With such large salaries given to so many players it also means Toronto had a high number of players at very low salaries. Ironically Toronto didn't seem give them the fair share of the deal despite the contract relief they've provided. Nana Attakora averaged $24.9K over 4 years, Milos Kocic $42K over 3 years, Joao Plata $48K over 2 years, Sam Cronnin $60K, Luis Silva $79K – a couple of these players demonstrate to you the value of the draft. Currently there are a number of players at this range, including players who have given the club great value for service and it’s in important for Toronto FC’s future to properly understand the true value of these current resources especially players who make under $100K a season.
I apologize for recounting bad memories for many Toronto FC fans and I'm sure I'm going to hear examples of other poor franchises in sports. They are in a city with both the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs, although comparably I would relate Toronto FC’s failure more closely to the Blue Jays 2013 season based on the resources of the club. The last seven years TFC should of been favorites, or close to it each season, yet they continue to finish out of the playoffs and close to the bottom. While money doesn't mean success, it does mean opportunities, which in my view Toronto FC has failed with more so than any other team in professional sports.