It's been well-known that Toronto FC's looking to make dramatic changes this offseason following a 5-21-8 MLS campaign, the worst in the league this year by points and the worst in their history by wins, and they may have made their first major move. Well-connected Washington Post soccer writer Steven Goff broke the news Tuesday morning that long-time D.C. United executive Kevin Payne, a man who helped put together the initial investors for that club and has been with the team since its 1996 formation in a variety of roles including president, general manager and CEO, is leaving that club and headed to Toronto. As of 5 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, there had been no official confirmation from Toronto F.C., but this would certainly fit with Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber's comments Monday that the team was planning "bold moves"; a guy like Payne has a tremendous MLS background, and would be a very splashy hire. The question is if he'll be able to turn the team around.
Payne's soccer credentials shouldn't be questioned. He's been one of the most important figures on the North American stage for over two decades, serving in a variety of key roles with the United States Soccer Federation from 1989-1991 and then with Soccer USA Partners from 1991-1994, being part of the group that put Major League Soccer together and collecting and coordinating the investors required to get D.C. United pff the ground. He helped make D.C. United an early MLS force both on and off the field, and has been involved with the club in one way or another since its 1996 inception. He even oversaw the six MLS teams Anschutz Entertainment Group ran from 2001 to 2004 (and people think David Braley owning two CFL teams is controversial) before returning to just focusing on D.C. United. Payne's been heavily involved in MLS since the beginning, so he has plenty of experience that could help him to turn Toronto FC around.
It's worth pointing out that big names haven't always come through for TFC, though. Keep in mind that the bizarre organizational structure that ran for the first part of this year and saw then-coach Aron Winter and then-director of soccer Paul Mariner (now the head coach) pulling in different directions was devised by a soccer legend, current U.S. national team head coach and famed Germany boss Jürgen Klinsmann. Well-known names haven't always worked out on the playing side, either; MLS stars and Canadian legends Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman both came to the club with high expectations, but never accomplished much in Toronto and wound up leaving before too long.
One thing that will be particularly interesting to watch is what Payne does with the head coaching job. Mariner, the current head man, is anything but a big name and hasn't exactly had a stunning record of success so far, but switching coaches and philosophies yet again carries its own pitfalls. It's not clear if any more prominent names would want the TFC job right now, either; sure, some may fantasize about those with Canadian ties such as former national team boss and current San Jose Earthquakes manager Frank Yallop (the 2012 MLS coach of the year), but it's difficult to see a guy like that leaving a great situation for the rebuilding project that TFC is at the moment. Payne's a nice name to have, sure, but even the best salesman in the world would have a tough time getting a renowned high-profile manager to take over TFC at the moment.
Keep in mind that Payne may not have a huge amount of autonomy, either. After all, Toronto FC is still an MLSE operation, and new MLSE president Tom Anselmi has been heavily involved in overseeing TFC in the past. Still, Payne's credentials make his hire an intriguing move for Toronto FC, and one that could potentially help turn this team around, especially if he's given the freedom to do so. There's room for optimism in Toronto with this move, but it's still up for debate if this will fail like so many of the other things TFC has tried.