It looks like Toronto FC really has done it this time. For all their missteps and foibles; for all their missed opportunities and mess-ups; for all the wrong decisions that seem so perfectly clear in hindsight, the hiring of Ryan Nelsen as head coach promises to the be the one that will most easily be ridiculed.
Yes, that's the same Ryan Nelsen who is currently a defender for Queens Park Rangers. Yes, that's the same Ryan Nelsen who's still the captain for the New Zealand national team. Yes, all early indications are that he's not giving up either position. Yes, that means he likely won't be joining Toronto FC until the middle of summer. Yes, that means there are potential conflicts even after that. Yes, TFC has already fired head coach Paul Mariner to make room. Yes, TFC has two of the top three picks in the MLS SuperDraft on Jan. 17. Yes, that means Nelsen won't be especially involved in making those picks. Yes, Toronto FC recently parted ways with Technical Director Bob de Klerk.
If you want a more detailed explanation, Waking the Red has been covering this from the very beginning and has it all wrapped up here.
Considering my editors would prefer me to keep this a family friendly conversation, I'll just say that the entire thing seems to be a colossal "cluster-mess."
When Kevin Payne was lured over from D.C. United to run TFC, that was supposed to mark the beginning of a new era in Toronto. The "grown-ups" had supposedly taken over. The days of ever-changing philosophies were supposed to be a thing of the past, replaced by the stability that a MLS veteran promised to bring.
Obviously, there's still room for this to work out, but you'll pardon the MLS-watching world if TFC has lost anything close to benefit of the doubt.
Even if Nelsen is somehow convinced to bail on QPR before June, that only marginally addresses the issue.
In Toronto FC's release announcing the move, it says they are still in discussions regarding Nelsen's start date. But that only helps lead to the sense that this was a very poorly managed situation. Shouldn't that have been one of Payne's stipulations when he made the hire? Shouldn't he, at the very least, know when his new coach is going to take over?
In the meantime, the team will be led by Fran O'Leary. You've probably never heard of O'Leary because he's spent the last seven years coaching Bowdoin College, a liberal arts school that plays in Division III. Once Nelsen joins the team, O'Leary will be his top assistant. O'Leary will also be the far more experienced of the two coaches, even as someone who has never coaches professionals.
Nelsen, of course, has absolutely zero coaching experience. His tie to Payne comes in the form of playing for him at United from 2001-05. Payne may well know Nelsen well enough to see coaching potential in him, but there's no reason to think this couldn't have waited until next year. Hiring an inexperienced coach is one thing, but doing so in this fashion seems like absolute lunacy.
One can only hope that this somehow works out. But right now this promises to go down in MLS history as one of its biggest debacles. At the very least, it promises to be among the biggest public relations disasters.