Toronto FC fans were hit with unexpected news on Tuesday morning.
It turns out that before the MLS primary transfer window shut on Monday night, club president Bill Manning and the TFC brass did a little trading. Many TFC supporters were hoping for a deadline-day move for a striker, and they got one; just not one they were anticipating.
Lukas MacNaughton, the young centre-back who blossomed at BMO Field last season, has been traded to Nashville SC. In return for the former Pacific FC Canadian Premier League star, TFC have received 34-year-old MLS striker CJ Sapong, although they also had to throw in $125,000 (potentially rising to $200,000) of general allocation money (GAM) to sweeten the deal.
Sapong is a 12-year MLS veteran and has scored 88 goals across spells with four clubs in the league.
“CJ has a long track record of scoring goals in MLS,” said TFC head coach Bob Bradley. “His work rate, mentality, and ability to impose himself on opponents in front of the goal are some of the important qualities we look forward to seeing from him here at TFC.”
Sapong has played regularly for goal-shy Nashville so far in 2023 and has failed to score. In 2022, he was an important figure in their XI but he netted just six goals in 37 games. He hasn’t scored a goal since May 2022. He has better stats from earlier in his career, but at 34, his career twilight is undeniably approaching, if he’s not there already.
Both Adama Diomande and Ayo Akinola have battled injury problems in the first quarter of TFC’s 2023 season and TFC need a focal point for Italian internationals Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne. Whether Sapong solves that problem well enough remains to be seen.
MacNaughton, 28, played 31 times in all competitions for TFC after joining in January 2022 after three seasons with CPL side Pacific FC, where he was part of the club’s CPL Championship-winning side. The defender, who also played in League1 Ontario with Alliance United and the North Toronto Nitros earlier in his career, is a popular figure with TFC fans.
His performances last season, when he played in 25 of TFC’s 35 MLS games, were good enough to earn him his Canadian men’s national team debut in the pre-World Cup friendly against Bahrain. He was also called up to John Herdman’s preliminary World Cup roster but did not make the final cut.
He had played in all of TFC’s last three games with Matt Hedges injured but will now reunite with former TFC winger and fellow Canadian Jacob Shaffelburg in Music City.
Meanwhile, TFC quickly followed up this announcement with another.
The Reds have replaced MacNaughton in the central defensive depth chart with young Inter Miami defender Aimé Mabika, acquiring him through 2023 with options for 2024 and 2025 in exchange, for $100,000 in 2024 GAM. Miami will also receive up to an additional $100,000 in conditional GAM if performance-based metrics are met and retain a sell-on percentage for Mabika.