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MLS champion Toronto FC says search for trophies will continue next season

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco (left) Victor Vazquez (centre) and Michael Bradley hold the MLS Trophy as they team celebrates their victory in the MLS Cup final with a parade through downtown Toronto on Monday, December 11, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco (left) Victor Vazquez (centre) and Michael Bradley hold the MLS Trophy as they team celebrates their victory in the MLS Cup final with a parade through downtown Toronto on Monday, December 11, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Toronto FC says the hunt for trophies will continue next season. And it is willing to spend more money to do so.

Team president Bill Manning says the newly crowned MLS champions will use the extra US$4 million in targeted allocation money the league is permitting each of the next two seasons: $1.2 million in league money and up to $2.8 million in club-funded money. That amount could jump to $5.2 million in 2018 if a club elects to bring forward the league-allocated $1.2 million for 2019.

That money can be used to pay down the acquisition cost and salary hit of elite players who are not given designated player status. Toronto used TAM this season to great effect by bringing in Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez.

A team can use TAM to buy down to $150,000 the salary cap hit of a player making up to $1.5 million.

Toronto already has the league's highest payroll with $19.2 million in salaries alone this season for Vazquez ($700,000) and designated players Sebastian Giovinco ($7.115 million), Michael Bradley ($6.5 million) and Jozy Altidore ($4.875 million).

The Philip F. Anschutz Trophy has already been installed in the MLS Cup trophy case that had previously been empty in the players' lounge at the Toronto training centre. Now the only empty spot is the space for the CONCACAF Champions League. 

GM Tim Bezbatchenko says he expects minimal roster turnover, although he acknowledged the team is right at the salary cap and may have to make some room.

"Inevitably we'll have to shed players," he said at the team's end-of-season media availability.

"We're close to being maxed out," he said of the salary cap.

Canadian wingback Raheem Edwards didn't last the day, taken by Los Angeles FC with the fifth pick of the MLS expansion draft. LAFC then flipped Edwards and Finnish defender Jukka Raitala, taken fourth in the expansion draft from Columbus, to the Montreal Impact for Belgian international defender Laurent Ciman.

Toronto has yet to disclose which player options are not being exercised. Defenders Steven Beitashour, Jason Hernandez and Drew Moor are eligible for free agency.

Moor, the only one that spoke Tuesday, says he is confident he will be back.

Other changes could come in the form of trades. Manning said the team received a "very serious offer" from another team on Sunday but elected to stand pat for the time being.

Bezbatchenko says he has a wish list of new talent but has to speak to coach Greg Vanney about the evolution of the roster. Continuing to develop depth will be a goal, especially with the CONCACAF Champions League looming.

"Now it's about staying on top and that's always more challenging," said Vanney.

With Toronto opening its Champions League campaign in mid-February, ahead of the MLS regular season, Vanney says he plans some pre-season changes. After opening camp in Los Angeles as usual, the team will spend some 10 days in Mexico and play several Mexican club sides.

Camp will start in late January.

"The opportunity to continue to play big games on all fronts is exciting," said captain Michael Bradley. "To start the season next year knowing that right away we've got to be on top of things so that we are ready to go after Champions League in a really strong way."

Toronto won entry into the CONCACAF competition by winning the Canadian Championship.

No MLS team has ever won the CONCACAF Champions League, which features top club teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean. Manning said all of the club's Champions League games will be at BMO Field, which could make for some chilly conditions.

"I think this team is as strong as an MLS team that has ever played (in the Champions League) and I think this team will not have fear playing in CONCACAF," said Manning. "I think we can do something special."

"This team over the last two years, it's hungry. And this team has desire," he added.

Manning also said he expects season tickets to go from just under 21,000 this season to some 25,000 in 2018. In a few years time, the franchise will also probably look at adding 4,000 to 5,000 permanent seats to BMO Field, he said.

He also said he wants to make the south end, home to the team's hardcore supporter groups, into a "safe standing" area.

"It will be done. Mark my words," he said. "It won't be done for next season. My hope is we can get it done for the 2019 season."

Manning, Vanney and Bezbatchenko followed a parade of players before the microphone, some still showing the effects of the prolonged victory party.

"I've seen a lot of things in the past few days," said Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who looked like one of the ex-Oasis Gallagher brothers hidden behind sunglasses and a ball cap.

"Probably not the best day to be asking more to think about things that happened in the past," Altidore, who was clearly feeling no pain at Monday's victory parade, said with a laugh.

Osorio was followed by raspy-voiced goalkeeper Alex Bono.

"I do need shades. I just don't have any," said Bono. "Oso should have left me his."

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