Join Now | 
HomeAboutContact UsPrivacy & SecurityAdvertise
Soccer America DailySoccer World DailySpecial EditionAround The NetSoccer Business InsiderCollege Soccer ReporterYouth Soccer ReporterSoccer on TVSoccer America ClassifiedsGame Report
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalkSoccer America ConfidentialYouth Soccer InsiderWorld Cup Watch
RSS FeedsArchivesManage SubscriptionsSubscribe
Order Current IssueSubscribeManage My SubscriptionRenew My SubscriptionGift Subscription
My AccountJoin Now
Tournament CalendarCamps & AcademiesSoccer GlossaryClassifieds
MLS Preview: Surprise choice Nelsen vies to resurrect Toronto
by Ridge Mahoney, February 20th, 2013 4:59PM

MOST READ
TAGS:  mls, toronto fc

MOST COMMENTED

By Ridge Mahoney

The return to MLS of former D.C. United defender Ryan Nelsen had been expected. His new job title and employer certainly weren’t.

Drastic measures were necessary after Toronto FC finished the 2012 season with the league’s worst record, 5-21-8, under interim head coach Paul Mariner. The first shock came when Kevin Payne left his post as D.C. president to cross the border, and after Mariner was ousted, Payne crossed the Atlantic Ocean to hire Nelsen away from the lineup of Premier League club Queens Park Rangers.

TFC fans, disgruntled by coaching fiasco and seven playoff-less campaigns, thought they’d seen it all, but hiring a current player with no coaching experience was a new one. Another twist came when Nelsen bargained an early departure from QPR instead of finishing out the season while assistant coach Fran O’Leary tended to TFC matters, as was originally announced. That scenario never seemed plausible.

One of the league’s top defenders during his MLS tenure (2001-04), Nelsen backstopped United’s championship team in his final season before starting a long stint with Blackburn, followed by shorter stays with Spurs and QPR. He holds no coaching certificates but is a student of the game laced with leadership ability.

The “new era” envisioned by Payne under Nelsen, 35, hasn’t started so well. Lingering injuries have sidelined Designated Players Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings, and goalkeeper Stefan Frei is recovering from a broken nose suffered in a preseason game Feb. 9 against Columbus. TFC lost to the Crew and the Union at the Disney World Pro Soccer Classic though it did drill Orlando City, 3-0.

Reviving fan interest at BMO Field will take some doing, as acres of empty seats appeared in many games last year. Nelsen’s fiery, engaging persona will play well at the start but this franchise long ago tired of colorful personalities when they couldn’t get the job done.

KEY PLAYER MOVES. The trade to Portland of Milos Kocic, who replaced Frei (broken leg) last year, leaves the short-term goalkeeping duties in the hands of Joe Bendik, whom TFC acquired in exchange for Kocic. The well-traveled Justin Braun gets a chance to fill the forward hole vacated by Eric Hassli (traded to FC Dallas) and Ryan Johnson (also to Portland). To shore up a leaky core (a league-high 62 goals allowed in 2012) veteran Danny Califf and former U.S. U-20 defender Gale Agbossoumonde have been signed, along with holding mid Julio Cesar, formerly of Sporting Kansas City. Young Canadian Kyle Bekker impressed enough at the MLS Combine that Toronto took him with the No. 3 in the SuperDraft and he could start in midfield.

WHY BE OPTIMISTIC? The presence of Cesar and Califf should provide some stability in the middle, and Koevermans proved last year that he’s capable in the goalmouth by scoring nine goals in just 16 games for a bad team. Luis Silva (five goals, five assists) deservedly ranked among the league’s top rookies and there are role players -- Ashtone Morgan, Terry Dunfield Logan Emory – who can be effective playing with the right teammates in the right system. Irish international defender Darren O’Dea played nine games after arriving in August from Glasgow Celtic; with Nelsen at the helm and Califf in the team, he can blossom into a reliable centerback. Payne helped build D.C. United into a respected franchise and has set out to do the same in Toronto.

WHY BE PESSIMISTIC? A coaching neophyte is going up against some very sharp rivals in the Eastern Conference, and the attack looks thin without Johnson, Hassli and Joao Plata, who was traded to Real Salt Lake. Frei is sidelined again after missing the entire 2012 season with that broken leg and didn’t get much competitive action in preseason before the broken nose. The starting XI looks average and there isn’t yet much depth, so the dependence on Frings (36) and Koevermans (34) will be extreme, and neither of them is young.

WHY WATCH THIS TEAM? Nelsen’s team won’t lack for spirit and determination, and despite his age Frings plays with a poise seldom seen in MLS. Silva’s skill and vision can light up a match, Koevermans is a sharp finisher, and when Frei is on his game he’s spectacular. If TFC can be competitive, the crowds at BMO Field will revert to raucous mode.

MLS PREVIEW SERIES:
Eastern Conference: New England | Philadelphia
Western Conference: Chivas USA | Colorado | Portland



No comments yet.

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now




AUTHORS

ARCHIVES
FOLLOW SOCCERAMERICA

Recent Soccer America Confidential
Soccer's scandals poison Gold Cup playing field    
As a child in the early 1960s, I was a college football fan, or as much ...
It's time to re-think the MLS All-Star Game    
As the league expands and teams sign more star players, limiting the MLS representation to just ...
USA gets reminder the red, white, and blue is not sacrosanct on Concacaf fields    
Defeat to Jamaica in the semifinals changes the U.S. landscape for the next few months. With ...
So you think you've been Concacafed?    
The Gold Cup is the tournament everyone loves to hate on, from the refereeing to the ...
USA has no one cut from Dempsey's mold -- thankfully, his exit is a ways off    
Before bagging a hat trick against Cuba, Clint Dempsey had scored three of the four U.S. ...
New MLS process twists its already labyrinth-like financial underpinnings    
In just over a week, two teams -- Portland and the Galaxy -- have announced deals ...
Galaxy breaks new ground with Dos Santos signing    
Is the signing of Giovani dos Santos another example of the rich getting richer in MLS, ...
FIFA hearing: Power, politics, the two-choice equation and why U.S. Soccer sells itself short    
According to U.S. Soccer's latest Form 990 return, secretary general Dan Flynn was its second highest-paid ...
Major roster changes reflect concerns over U.S. play at Gold Cup    
Tepid performances in the group phase prompted U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to bring on DaMarcus ...
U.S. Soccer in the Senate hot seat over FIFAGate    
Drip. Drip. Drip. That's the sound, day after day, of new revelations into FIFAGate, the massive ...
>> Soccer America Confidential Archives