Home MLS Toronto FC Payne out as TFC prez: Club must change its culture, not just executives

Payne out as TFC prez: Club must change its culture, not just executives

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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.

And it was Payne who made the call to hire Ryan Nelsen, the then-Queens Park Rangers-defender who had never been a head coach or had his coaching paperwork in place.

The result? Well, TFC isn’t in last place overall. It’s tied for second-last overall (with Chivas!), the Goats and Reds each have 22 points out of 26 games.

But, what was troubling is how Payne couldn’t control the TFC brand. That’s the president job. Leaks about Forlan put him under extreme pressure. For months, Newell’s Old Boys defined the conversation about Urruti’s status, as if the Argentines were collectively raising their middle fingers toward southern Ontario. And, when Nelsen became highly critical of the Canadian Soccer Association and then-men’s team head coach Colin Miller, Payne needed to step in and smooth things over. Instead, Nelsen was allowed to embarrass the club — getting into a PR battle he couldn’t win. When Nelsen complained about Miller requiring TFC’s players to be at camp and miss an MLS match against Montreal, he felt a backlash even from Toronto supporters, who understood that country takes precedence over a club that was already out of the playoff picture.

As well, TFC selected Kyle Bekker in the first round of the draft. You’d forget he was on the team. Yet, when he went to the national team for friendlies and the Gold Cup, Miller raved about the kid and what he could bring to the program.

Payne was supposed to bring in a new era but, unfortunately for long-suffering Toronto fans, it was more of the same.

Toronto soccer fans deserve better. Remember the unbridled joy of the mass seat-cushion tossing that followed Danny Dichio’s first-ever franchise goal in 2007? Remember the hope, the joy? Remember that feeling that somehow Toronto would be a major part of MLS 2.0?

The people of Toronto have done their job since day one. Truth is, we can talk about the empty seats at BMO Field, but if you’d put the TFC product in Los Angeles, you’d be getting attendances that would make even Chivas blush. If you did this in many other markets in North America, you’d be luring fans with comp after comp after comp.

Before Toronto FC signs another player, it needs a cultural change. New Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment President Tim Leiweke imagines Canada’s largest metropolis as a place that will lure high-profile Designated Players and be one of the most important venues for MLS. But it’s not there yet. And until TFC changes as a corporate whole, until it stops being so darn secretive, until it loses its sense of entitlement (which is strange for a team that’s so poor), the Leiweke vision can’t be realized

We will see what comes next. But we can also wonder what would have happened had Wilt got the job in the first place.

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One Comment

  1. footy

    September 5, 2013 at 7:29 am

    Simply unbelievable. When are they starting to realise you need consistency in a football club? I don’t care about Payne, but now they will bring in some other hotshot who has his own ideas and starts form scratch AGAIN! It’s a never-ending story.

    Also, this must mean the end of Nelsen at TFC. Too bad cause I think he’s improved the squad this year, and next year things could have really gone up.

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