Who knows what lurks in the minds of Toronto FC management? Ives Galarcep, apparently. The well-connected soccer journalist broke the news today that the team's to bring in New Zealand defender Ryan Nelsen, who was starting for English Premier League side Queen's Park Rangers as recently as Saturday. Amazingly, though, Ives adds that they're not bringing Nelsen in as a player, or even a player-coach, but as the team's new head coach despite his total lack of experience in that role. The report's since been confirmed by Sportsnet's John Molinaro and the Toronto Star's Daniel Giraud, amongst others, and it raises plenty of questions about just where Toronto FC's going to go from here.
Nelsen is certainly a big name, and a well-respected one. He's been a tremendous player in both MLS (with D.C. United, where new TFC president/GM Kevin Payne was at the time) and the Premier League (with Blackburn, Tottenham and now QPR), and he's been a crucial component for New Zealand internationally, leading the All-Whites to the 2010 World Cup. He's currently a vice-captain with QPR, and fans of that team are already dismayed over the news of his departure. (New Zealand fans are also upset, presuming this will mean the end of his playing career.) If he was coming in as a player, this would be a clear win for Toronto FC; at 35, Nelsen's still a Premier League-calibre defender and may have a few more seasons left, and he could shore up a TFC defence that allowed a league-high 62 goals last season. He has no formal experience as a coach, though (although he has apparently done some work running training sessions with Premier League teams), and Ives says he's likely to serve only in that role, so that makes this a much bigger gamble.
It's worth pointing out that Toronto FC is in a tough situation regardless of who their coach is. In addition to those league-high 62 goals against, they only scored 36 in the 2012 campaign, fifth-worst of the 19 MLS teams. They also finished in the league basement with a 5-21-8 record, good for just 23 points and worse than their 6-17-7 expansion campaign in 2007 in both points (they had 25 that year) and goal-differential (-24 in 2007, -26 in 2012). Thus, based purely on MLS results, they've gone backwards since entering the league. A lot of that's thanks to the lack of continuity and the constant roster turnover, as Nelsen will be their eighth head coach (remarkable for a team heading into only its seventh season; by comparison, the Argonauts have had six head coaches in that time, while the Jays, Raptors and Leafs have had three each), and there have been some promising developments on other fronts (young talent coming up through the improving academy, success in the Voyageurs' Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League), but this is currently a squad that looks to be in dire shape on the field heading into the 2013 MLS campaign. That's not the easiest situation for a rookie head coach to be in.
Yet, there is some room for hope for TFC fans, as Payne's pulled this off successfully twice before. While with D.C. United, he tabbed Piotr Nowak and Ben Olsen for the head job despite their lack of coaching experience, and both proved to be solid coaches. Age and experience don't always determine success in coaching, either. Still, this move will raise plenty of eyebrows given the timing (as of this past weekend, Nelsen was still playing in the Premier League and Paul Mariner was set to remain as Toronto FC's head coach again) and given Nelsen's lack of a coaching resume. It's a substantial risk for Payne and TFC; we'll see if it works out. Oh well, at least Nelsen can teach the players how to eat chicken before big games (via Richard Whittall):
(Meanwhile, the Montreal Impact also reportedly hired a new head coach Monday. Their choice is much less controversial, though; Marco Schallibaum, who's spent 10 years as a head coach in Switzerland and two more working as a FIFA coaching instructor in Asia. That doesn't mean he'll necessarily find more success than Nelsen, but his hiring definitely raises less eyebrows. Also, Colin Miller has been picked as the interim head coach of Canada's men's team, and technical director Bob de Klerk will be leaving TFC as well.)