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TFC has spent big in the January window and is positioning itself for great things in 2014 and beyond. For rival Montreal, the pressure is now on to try and keep pace.

Toronto FC has been the butt of many a joke among avid MLS followers for failing to make the playoffs in its seven-year history, and for often finishing at the bottom-end of the league standings.

And as to be expected, Montreal Impact fans, year after year, have derived the most pleasure from seeing their biggest rival down the 401 fail, and fail miserably. The most recent 2013 season, especially, provided plenty of ammunition for derision as the Impact pummeled TFC 6-0 in the second leg of the Canadian Championship semi-finals and managed to make the playoffs for the first time in only their second season in the league. 

The team’s upper management hasn’t shied away from having a few laughs either. 

“Every time I can make fun of Toronto FC, I do,” Impact president Joey Saputo told club members at a meeting in December.

But with all that has transpired in the recent weeks since, no one is laughing anymore.
In December, Toronto signed Brazilian striker Gilberto. This week, the Reds have added forwards Dwayne De Rosario and English international Jermain Defoe. And if those additions weren’t already enough to make TFC look like a side to be feared in 2014, Toronto has also managed to land U.S. international midfielder Michael Bradley from AS Roma, who’s probably the best player in CONCACAF at this moment in time. 

Almost overnight, TFC has transformed into a league heavyweight. Not only are the Reds looking like a team that could make the playoffs, but one that could potentially challenge for silverware as well. 

In the past, Toronto’s struggles proved extremely convenient for the Impact as they accentuated the team’s successes and helped soften setbacks, but with the Reds now looking like a formidable side, the Impact can’t sit as comfortably as they used to. TFC’s activity in the transfer market piles on the pressure at Stade Saputo. The fans now expect some sort of reaction, for the Impact to sign players of the same calibre.
Though Montreal still boasts the fifth-largest team payroll in MLS, the reality is that it can’t compete financially with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment or the very large U.S. market teams like New York or Los Angeles. It’s unlikely that the Impact will be able to afford to spend close to $20 million a year in designated player salaries any time soon, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t compete where it matters.

TFC may have three DP’s, but there’s still another 20 players on the roster and there’s still a salary cap to work with. Now more than ever, the Impact have to make the most of every dollar they spend.

They also have to build the club – the academy and the team’s infrastructure – and develop a clear direction and philosophy for the future, much like Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake (this year’s MLS Cup finalists) have successfully been able to do.

In the short term, though, the Impact will be under significant pressure to sign star players and put together a strong team. So far, they’ve yet to make a single signing this offseason and there are several holes in the roster that need to be filled.