Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Goodbye, Greg

It is be a big day for hockey fans, thanks to the Phoenix mess continuing to play out in court and Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final going tonight, and it's also a big day for Canadian basketball fans with Jason Kapono traded from the Raptors (Michael Grange, The Globe and Mail) for Reggie Evans, but there's some important soccer news as well. Toronto FC announced today (John F. Molinaro, CBC Sports) that they had released veteran goalkeeper Greg Sutton (pictured) and traded a 2010 third-round draft pick to the San Jose Earthquakes for American defender Nick Garcia and the MLS rights to Canadian striker Ali Gerba. Analysis on what it all means and some links after the jump.

This is a move that had to be made. Sutton is a talented goalkeeper, but he's been replaced in the TFC starting lineup by rookie Stefan Frei this season, who has been spectacular so far. Sutton may well be picked up by another MLS club and perhaps even have a chance to start, but he wasn't particularly needed in Toronto after Frei emerged as a star and his guaranteed contract of $165,000 was just too high for a backup goalkeeper in the strict salary cap world of MLS. His release opens a roster spot and adds cap room, plus it should give younger goalkeeper Brian Edwards more playing time to develop as Frei's backup. Gerba and Garcia are nice pickups as well, and Sutton's departure paved the way for their entrance.

Ideally, it would have been nice to get something for him in trade, but general manager Mo Johnston didn't have a lot of leverage. MLS has more depth at keeper than any other position; most teams have at least one solid netminder, and many of them are American, which helps with the roster limits on imports. The U.S. has actually been more successful at bringing up talented keepers than most countries, and certainly has done a better job of developing star goalkeepers than other players; Tim Howard and Brad Friedel are two of the best keepers in the English Premier League (for Everton and Aston Villa respectively) and there are plenty of other American standouts in MLS, including Seattle's Kasey Keller. Thus, no MLS team would be too desperate to trade for a 32-year-old Canadian with a history of concussion problems who was likely to be released anyway thanks to his contract; why pay for what you can get for free? If they are interested, he can be claimed quite easily now.

Toronto fans should thank Sutton for his service. He was one of the original members of the club and was their starting goalkeeper for their first two seasons. He played quite well during that time and turned in some solid performances with the Canadian national team as well. Unfortunately, he suffered a severe concussion at the 2007 Gold Cup, which kept him out for a significant amount of time and appeared to affect his play to a degree when he returned to the TFC lineup. He battled back from that, though, and seemed to be back in fine form lately, but he wasn't playing as well as Frei and was very expendable due to his contract. Despite that, he will be fondly remembered by many TFC fans, and he may be again cheered by national team fans in the future depending on where he winds up.

Where will Sutton wind up? It's hard to say. In MLS, D.C. United is most well-known as a side with goalkeeping problems, but many of those appear to be because of their inability to choose and stick with a number-one keeper. I'm not sure Sutton is the answer there. Another MLS side may take a flier on him, perhaps initially as a backup, but his Canadian passport and contract expectations may hurt those chances. He could also wind up overseas.

One intriguing possibility is another Canadian side. Matt Jordan of the Montreal Impact has looked rather shaky lately and was unimpressive in Sunday's match against the Whitecaps. Sutton's Canadian passport would be attractive to Montreal and his tenure with the national team would likely make him a popular player there. The lack of a salary cap in the USL and Montreal owner Joey Saputo's willingness to pay for quality players might also help. It's pure speculation at this point, but it would make a good bit of sense.

Some reaction from around the intertubes:

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