Toronto FC Archive

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Bezbatchenko’s arrival at TFC a “Theo Epstein kind of hire,” says Leiweke

Tim Bezbatchenko

Tim Bezbatchenko

Every announcement of a new management hire (not just in sports but in any business) brings forth the usual platitudes about putting the past in the rearview mirror and looking towards the future. Toronto FC’s introduction of Tim Bezbatchenko as the club’s new general manager indeed carried promises of a brighter future for the snake-bitten franchise, and yet Bezbatchenko’s hiring seems to have come as a direct result of TFC’s past roster construction woes.

“As we looked at our history and kind of opened the wounds here, we began to ask what have we done wrong and why have we not been able to make sense of this here,” MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke explained. “One of the things that was very clear is that we’re always struggling with the cap here. We’re getting out-traded, we were always in trouble with our cap, we were always trying to get rid of bad contracts from day one….this has always been an issue here. We’ve never done a great job of analyzation, we were always about flash and not about work.”

In order to address this issue, the Reds hired Bezbatchenko, a 31-year-old attorney who has spent the last three years working in the league office overseeing contracts, arranging signings and various other player personnel duties for six MLS teams, one of which was Toronto FC. While Bezbatchenko has impressive credentials and was highly regarded by MLS Commissioner Don Garber, he’s also a neophyte not just as a GM, but in any sort of team front office environment.

It’s a risky move for Leiweke to begin his stewardship of TFC with a rookie general manager, yet he sees Bezbatchenko’s hiring as a forward-thinking move. As if expectations weren’t high enough, Leiweke even described the move as “a Theo Epstein kind of hire,” drawing comparisons to the former Boston Red Sox GM who was hired at age 28 and eventually delivered two World Series titles to the long-suffering baseball team.
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TFC loses to Red Bulls: Toothless Reds possess, but don’t threaten

Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry

There are two things that strikers must do (other than score, of course).

They must command fear from the opposition. They must force opposing defences to respect them.

If opposing defenders and holding midfielders fear the strikers, they won’t commit forward as much; they hang back to try and mitigate counterattacks. And, that opens up space for other teammates; if the strikers are marked, then there will be openings that allow a midfielder to make a run.

But it’s clear that Toronto FC doesn’t have a healthy striker who can command that fear and/or respect. It’s evident on how opposing teams can crowd out TFC in the final third of the pitch. The strikers don’t pull defenders out of position. And, TFC, try as hard as it might, can’t create any real threats in the final third.

Case in point: Saturday’s 2-0 loss at the New York Red Bulls. The result now leaves TFC with 23 points with five games left to play. With Houston’s win over Philadelphia Saturday night, the Reds are officially (as in, mathematically) eliminated from playoff contention. If somehow lightning struck five times in a row, and the Reds won their last five, they’d get to 38 points. The Philadelphia Union, which held fifth place at the time of this article, have 39 points.
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TFC adds fourth goalkeeper to the roster as Konopka acquired in deadline-day deal

Chris Konopka

Chris Konopka

With the MLS roster freeze set for Friday, Toronto FC, at the moment, has four goalkeepers on its roster.

Starter Joe Bendik, back-up Stefan Frei and teenager Quillan Roberts are now joined on the roster by Chris Konopka. On Friday morning, the Reds announced that they had acquired the keeper from the Philadelphia Union in exchange for a third-round draft pick in 2014.

The Whitecaps already own Toronto FC’s first-round draft pick in 2014 — which looks to be a top-three selection. TFC had already sent its natural third-round pick to Sporting Kansas City as part of the Bobby Convey trade. The Reds still had one more third-round pick to burn, though, as it had Chicago’s pick as part of the trade that sent Quincy Amarikwa to the Windy City.

Now it’s gone.

So, for the first three rounds of the draft, barring any more trades, TFC is down to one second-round pick and a fourth-round selection. And that’s interesting, as Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president Tim Leiweke has identified the draft as one of the “four pillars” to building a franchise.
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TFC can’t make the final pass as Reds settle for draw with Chicago

Robert Earnshaw: Blames poor BMO Field grass surface for his injury.

Robert Earnshaw: Blames poor BMO Field grass surface for his injury.

All season long Toronto FC has been victimized by a lack of a good finishing touch, but in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire, it was just getting to that last touch that was the problem.

In a game that the Reds controlled for much of the final 70 minutes, they hurt themselves on four different occasions by not making a final pass on a two-on-one situation. Alvaro Rey, Andrew Wiedeman, and Justin Braun (twice, though his second chance wasn’t too egregious) each had the ball with at least one teammate open for a cross, and yet the ball-holders all chose to shoot, with no success.

“We had four two-versus-ones and at this level you’ve got to take them. If we took one of them I think we would’ve won the game comfortably,” TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen said.

The players weren’t necessarily being selfish by attempting to shoot rather than pass, Nelsen thought, aside from “maybe in the selfish way that they’re strikers and strikers want to score goals. It’s just about taking the right options and unfortunately we had a few of them that we just didn’t take.

“This is basic kind of stuff, which is frustrating. If we score one of them then they have to go after the game even more since they have to win, and it opens up even more opportunities for us.”
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Urruti traded away from TFC less than a week after Payne leaves the team

Maximiliano Urruti

Maximiliano Urruti

Boy, you get the feeling that the drawn out pursuit of Argentine forward Maximiliano Urruti was a Kevin Payne pet project, don’t you?

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment President Tim Leiweke has said that he likes to let the “smart guys in the media” try to speculate on the motivations for the decisions made at TFC. But the decision to trade Urruti to the Portland Timbers less than a week after Kevin Payne was relieve of his duties as TFC’s president and general manager certainly hints that the Argentine was far more a Payne guy than he was a Ryan Nelsen or Leiweke guy.

On Monday, TFC announced that it had traded Urruti to Portland in exchange for the the Timbers’ first-round pick in the 2015 draft and Nigerian forward Bright Dike, whose career has been slowed by knee problems. Dike has scored six times in 23 MLS games as a member of the Timbers. TFC also gets allocation money which will likely help mitigate the transfer costs of bringing Urruti to MLS. TFC also gets an international roster spot for the rest of its meaningless 2013 season.

But, when you think of the months and months Payne and TFC spent chasing Urruti, the back-and-forth between Newell’s Old Boys and TFC over Urruti’s status, the reports and false reports about Urruti being in Toronto, it just seems so darn sudden that, with just two sub appearances under his belt, he’s gone.

“We received an offer from Portland that we could simply not pass on.” Those are Nelsen’s words.
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Toronto FC’s defenders give away four cheap goals to the Timbers

Rodney Wallace

Rodney Wallace

The Vancouver Whitecaps continued their slide down the Western Conference table with a loss in Dallas Saturday, but there is a silver lining out there for the fans in British Columbia.

Toronto FC began the post-Kevin Payne era with a resonating 4-0 loss to the host Portland Timbers. Yes, Whitecaps supporters will be unhappy to see a Cascadia and conference rival pick up maximum points and also pad the vital goals-for column. But, if this game was any indication of how Toronto FC will play out the string, the Whitecaps have to be hopeful that they can maximize their draft position in 2014.

That’s because the Whitecaps, thanks to the deal that brought Eric Hassli to Toronto last year (in the pre-Kevin Payne era, for those still keeping track of TFC’s “eras”), have the Reds’ first-round pick in the next draft.

Here’s how it breaks down: Toronto FC is stuck on 22 points, with seven left to play. D.C. United, dead last in the league, has 14 points and a game in hand on TFC. DCU burns that game Sunday, when it faces Chivas USA; the Goats are tied with TFC for the second-worst record in the league.

So, either Chivas or D.C. or both will gain ground on TFC this week.
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Leiweke: Next Toronto FC general manager will be a salary-cap guru, must accept Nelsen as coach

leiwekeToronto FC’s next general manager will need to be a “capologist,” said Tim Leiweke, the president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Speaking to media Thursday morning in the wake of the news that Kevin Payne had been relieved of his duties as TFC’s general manager and president, Leiweke said that MLSE will make sure it finds the right person to take over the club. But, at the same time, the organization needs to begin preparing for the next transfer window, which opens in January.

Leiweke also said that the new general manager must accept Ryan Nelsen will continue as the club’s head coach.

“I’m comfortable with Ryan, he will be our coach next year.”

Despite TFC’s struggles, Leiweke said Nelsen is showing that he’s getting better as a coach, and shares the philosophy on how to build a team with the MLSE boss.

“We had to through a process of training wheels with the new coach,” said Leiweke,

Leiweke confirmed that Earl Cochrane, who had been the team’s director of team and player operations, was also let go. Pat Onstad, who had been the team’s head scout will have his fate decided by the new GM.
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Leiweke: MLSE looking at costs, feasibility of allowing Argos to share BMO Field with TFC

aRGOSOn Thursday, Toronto FC announced that it would not ask season-seat holders for any money till January, so the club can be judged on its hiring of a new general manager to replace Kevin Payne, who was let go Wednesday.

That was the carrot.

And, in the same media conference call Thursday, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment President Tim Leiweke said the team is in the preliminary stages of how to improve and better utilize BMO Field — a future which could include sharing the facility with CFL’s Argonauts.

That was the stick.

Leiweke said that MLSE execs had told him to “go look at” the feasibility of allowing the Argos to use BMO Field. Currently, there isn’t room to put a CFL field into the facility. Seats would have to be moved — a major renovation would need to be done.

But a major renovation is on the radar. Leiweke said MLSE staff have been touring MLS stadiums around the league to look at new turf and new structures.

He wouldn’t rule out BMO becoming a multipurpose stadium. And he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of BMO going back to an artificial surface.

“Everything is under consideration, nothing has been decided,” said Leiweke.
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Payne out as TFC prez: Club must change its culture, not just executives

Kevin Payne

Kevin Payne

Somewhere in Indianapolis, Peter Wilt is probably feeling just a bit of schadenfreude at the moment. You could hardly blame him.

If you recall, during the previous MLS off-season, Wilt, the former Chicago Fire executive who is spearheading the Indy Eleven’s entry into NASL, was considered the frontrunner for the Toronto FC presidency. He’d had talks with the executives, and he felt like the rug was pulled out from beneath him when it was Kevin Payne who got the job. (CLICK HERE for more).

On Wednesday, the Toronto Star reported that Payne wouldn’t even make it close to one calendar year as TFC’s president and general manager. He’s out.

Payne, fresh from D.C. United, made the daring moves to stockpile allocation money on draft day, and then supporters were frustrated when that cash wasn’t splashed. There was a spectacular flop of a chase for Uruguayan Diego Forlan. In the spring, Arnold Peralta, the Honduran midfielder, balked at TFC’s contract offer and went back home (CLICK HERE). The signing of Maximiliano Urruti from Newell’s Old Boys turned into a drawn-out, exhausting soap opera.
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TFC settles for draw with Revs after controversial decision to wave off a goal

Andrew Wiedeman

Andrew Wiedeman

Sloppiness in the first two minutes and controversy in the last two minutes bookended 86 minutes of quality soccer from Toronto FC, leaving the team upset that it only got one point on Friday night following its 1-1 draw with the New England Revolution at BMO Field.

For the second time in as many games, the Reds found themselves in an early hole, this time allowing Diego Fagundez a gift of a goal in just the second minute. New England midfielder Kelyn Rowe did the majority of the work in taking the ball up the right side and easily slicing through several Toronto defenders.

Rowe got a shot of his own that was stopped, he got his own rebound and then passed to a completely-unmarked Fagundez on the left side. Fagundez missed at least three gimme chances in the Revolution’s last meeting with TFC (a 1-0 Reds win on August 4) but not even he could miss this one, as he popped it into the open net to give his team an early advantage.

“We’re slow out of the box, aren’t we?” TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen said. “We’re getting close to being a 90-minute team but it wasn’t good enough. The guys knew it. What the reaction [was] after that was probably key for me….We probably just needed a wee bit and we would’ve won the game.”

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