Toronto FC adds experience to backline by signing free agent Shane O'Neill

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Toronto FC added some experience to its much-maligned defence Wednesday by signing free-agent defender Shane O’Neill on a deal that runs through 2024.

The 28-year-old spent the last two seasons with the Seattle Sounders, making a combined 56 appearances in all competitions including 27 MLS games this year.

“Shane is an experienced central defender with an excellent team mentality," Bob Bradley, Toronto head coach and sporting director, said in a statement. “I have great respect for his competitiveness and work ethic. He has continued to improve throughout his career, and we are excited to bring him to TFC.”

Born in Ireland and raised in Colorado, O'Neill entered Major League Soccer in 2012 after signing with the Colorado Rapids as a homegrown player.

He left MLS in 2015 to join Cyprus' Apollon Limassol before going out on loan to Belgium's Royal Excel Mouscron, England's Cambridge United and NAC Breda of the Netherlands. He transferred to SBV Excelsior, another Dutch side, for the 2017-2018 season before returning to MLS in 2018 for two seasons with Orlando City.

“I am so excited by this opportunity to compete for one of the top clubs in North America,” said O’Neill. “The multi-cultural aspect of this city and its fans will be amazing to get to know and represent. I can’t wait to throw everything we have as a team into winning and competing for championships.”

A former U.S. youth international, O’Neill was part of the American team at the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup. He was called up by the U.S. senior squad in January 2015 but did not earn a cap.

The six-foot-two 190-pounder is the son of former star Gaelic footballer Colm O'Neill, who opened a pub in Boulder, Colo., when the family emigrated to the U.S.

O'Neill joins Toronto on the same day that former TFC defender Omar Gonzalez signed with the New England Revolution. The 33-year-old Gonzalez signed a two-year contract with the Revs.

Gonzalez made US$1.06 million last season with Toronto. O'Neill was paid US$115,000.

Toronto opted not to exercise the contract options on Gonzalez and fellow defenders Eriq Zavaleta and Rocco Romeo. Julian Dunn, out of contract at the end of the year, announced his departure to Norway's HamKam while fullback Justin Morrow has retired.

Gonzalez and French-born Congo DR international Chris Mavinga were Toronto's first-choice centre back pairing.

Toronto (6-18-10) conceded a franchise-worst 66 goals last season. At times, Toronto had to deploy captain Michael Bradley in the backline.

TFC also has Mavinga and fellow defenders Richie Laryea, Luke Singh, Kemar Lawrence, and Brazil's Auro Jr. under contract.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2021.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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