Kevin Payne

Kevin Payne’s time at Toronto FC ends after nine months

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Nine months after Kevin Payne landed in Ontario, he’s gone. Amid another disappointing season, Toronto FC has parted ways with the president and general manager they imported from DC United, part of what the Toronto Star described as ” larger sweep of the executive suites that will continue with announcements as early as Thursday.”

With Tim Leiweke, former president and CEO of LA Galaxy owner Anshultz Entertainment Group, brought on board in June by Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (TFC’s owners), the writing was always on the wall for Payne, whose revamped team has failed to make significant strides under new coach Ryan Nelsen. Through 22 games, the Reds have the second-worst record (26 points) and second-worst attack (23 goals) in Major League Soccer, leaving little evidence the eight-year-old team is making significant strides toward their first postseason appearance.

Though Toronto have already eclipsed last year’s point total (23), Nelsen’s team has failed to inspire the once raucous, now dwindling crowds at BMO Field. His motley crew of British imports, MLS veterans, young talent, and international recruits sit 15 points out of a playoff spot for which they’ve never contended. With the parts Payne’s brought in, Nelsen has employed a conservative approach that’s added little entertainment value to their modest results.

Payne, from the Star’s reporting:

“I’m disappointed, but this is the way this business works,” Payne said Wednesday. He will remain in Toronto for the month before returning to his home in Washington, D.C.

“I’m going to help the team through a transition period. I don’t want to — I won’t — turn my back on this club.”

It’s easy to say in hindsight, once the wheels are in motion, but the writing truly was on the wall the moment Leiweke agreed to come on. Set to preside over MLSE, Leiweke was always likely to bring in his own people, and although the former Galaxy boss didn’t make changes the moment he walked through the door, Payne’s grace period failed to show a plan that would bring Toronto more success than recent DC United teams. It seems once Leiweke got around to evaluating Payne’s part of the MLSE conglomerate, there wasn’t enough to recommend him for the job.

And if the writing was on the wall for Payne, you can’t help but wonder about Nelsen’s future, either. The man who brought him to Toronto from his playing days at Queens Park Rangers will now moved on, along with other executives who were part of his hire. With somebody like Frank Yallop available, Nelsen’s job may be only slightly more secure than Payne’s was.

The ultimate decision may lay in the hands of Payne’s successor, with the Star speculating Real Salt Lake’s Garth Lagerwey will be pursued. With Dave Checketts having moved on from the Western Conference leaders (Dell Loy Hansen now owning the team), Lagerwey may have less tying himself to RSL than he did at the beginning of the season.

And if Lagerwey’s in frame, it’s also worth noting RSL head coach Jason Kreis is also out-of-contract at the end of the season.

Toronto’s been a downtrodden team but it’s still a major market. With Leiweke on board, many around the league may see the Reds as capable of realizing their potential. Some significant names may want to hop on board.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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