Ryan Nelsen will end his playing career next week in order to take the reins as Toronto FC‘s new coach.
Nelsen, a 35-year-old defender with Queens Park Rangers, has come to an agreement with the Premier League club that will let him move to Toronto. His final match is scheduled for Jan. 29 against Manchester City at Loftus Road. QPR manager Harry Redknapp had hoped to keep Nelsen through the remainder of the season as the Hoops are fighting to avoid relegation. QPR has won just two of 21 matches this season.
When he joins Toronto on Feb. 1, Nelsen will need to get right to work as the Major League Soccer team traveled this week to its training camp in Florida. He replaces Paul Mariner as coach after Toronto finished with the MLS’s worst record last season at 5-21-8. Toronto has never reached the playoffs during its 6-year history.
“I just love it; it’s where my head’s been for a few years,” Nelsen said to Toronto FC TV during the club’s media day Tuesday. “You love everything about football, but playing I didn’t really enjoy so much as coaching. What that was happening, I knew it was time.”
Nelsen spent four seasons in MLS with D.C. United from 2001 to 2004 before he moved to the EPL with Blackburn Rovers. He spent 6 1/2 years with them before he was released in January 2012 to sign with Tottenham Hotspur. Nelsen moved to QPR after Tottenham released him at the end of the season.
Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei said he believed Nelsen will carry his work ethic as a player into the coaching role, even if the process may be slow at first.
“I hope he can transfer what you see at QPR, some of the relentless fight not to surrender,” said Frei. “He came across as: we need to work; I know to need to maybe learn on the job as well, but we’re all in this together and we’re going to make it happen.”
Nelsen also spent 14 years with the New Zealand national team, which included the 2010 FIFA World Cup and 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.