Toronto FC have gone through years of bumbling and confusion surrounding the direction of the team. Presidents and general managers have come and gone. Playing styles and philosophies have changed and the club has gone through seven coaches in seven years. More than wins, the franchise needs stability in both the upper management and on the pitch.
Kevin Payne’s hiring as president and general manager solidifies management with a proven Major League Soccer executive amassing almost eighteen years in same positions with D.C. United. Earl Cochrane, the director of player and team operations for TFC, knew of Payne’s ability as he himself was with United’s executive team in his previous incarnations.
Payne knew he had to get his first decision correct. That decision was to appoint Ryan Nelson as coach. Nelson doesn’t have any previous coaching experience so why was he given the reigns to bring TFC out of the worst soccer franchise in North America, let alone the world, moniker.
Payne decided to pick someone he knew. Nelson’s playing career began in earnest with United and it was Payne who drafted him out of Stanford. Nelson quickly became a fan favorite as the hard man of the team and replaced Marco Etcheverry as captain soon after. He was named to consecutive MLS Best XI squads and won the MLS Cup.
His play and leadership took his game to England where he suited up for Blackburn Rovers, Tottenham Hotspurs and Queens Park Rangers. In his time in the premiership, he captained the Rovers side and left an impression on every striker he ever tangled with emerging as a quality centre half.
Nelson also captained New Zealand in the World Cup 2010. The team came out with three draws but did not make the knockout rounds. His and the team’s play earned rave reviews and increased his own stature as a player and leader.
So without any coaching experience, Nelson has to rely on his years as player and captain to guide TFC. His success as a player usually came when he played in either the defensive midfield or center half roles. It is here where a player must know where and how everything is taking shape on the field. There is no time to second guess your choices as you are always in the play.
His hard man tag has come from his great work ethic, strong desire to win every ball and fitness. His role as a captain at both the club and country level has taught him the leadership skills to take many different personalities and make them one. It has also taught him the ways to deal with the critics and the media. He has learned how to be the players battering ram and the coaches spin maser.
Nelson’s time in the MLS has taught him the ins and outs of playing in the league and in North America including the rigors of travel. His time at Greensboro College and Stanford has given him an inside view on how the NCAA and it’s players are funneled through to the professional leagues. It’s easy to see that Nelson has had plenty of opportunities to learn as a player notwithstanding what he took away from his own coaches.
These assets and Payne’s familiarity with Nelson are the reason why he was chosen as the new gaffer at TFC. I am still not sold. In times of turmoil you usually turn to someone who has a proven record. Nelson has no record. I admire his playing career. I admire the fact that a kid from New Zealand can do what he has done. I admire his hard-nosed style at center back or center half. As a coach he has much to do to make me believe. As a player, he has done it all.
Hence why I still wonder if it would have been easier for TFC to get Nelson out of his contract at QPR and make him the player coach. Wouldn’t it be nice seeing Nelson captaining and anchoring the side? That kind of makes sense, right.
Shahab Khan is a Soccer and MLS Columnist with Rant Sports focusing on the Toronto FC
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