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.

Landon Donovan unveiled by Club Leon

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Landon Donovan was unveiled to Club Leon fans at Estadio Leon on Monday night.

The former USMNT star and longtime LA Galaxy forward came out of retirement for the second time to sign with the Liga MX side this past weekend. Leon finished 7th in the Apertura table, losing to Tigres in the first round of the playoffs. They currently have a perfect six points through the first two Clausura matches, sitting second in the table with a +3 goal differential.

Fans were allowed into the stadium for free, and they packed the lower stand on one end, waving USA flags and holding large “L” and “D” cutouts, and the fans faced a massive board on the field that read “I DON’T BELIEVE IN WALLS.” Chants of “U-S-A” rang out through the stadium before the unveiling.

ESPN reporter Tom Marshall pointed out that the last time the club had such a large event to welcome a player, it was in January of 2013 when the club brought Mexico captain Rafa Marquez in from the New York Red Bulls.

Donovan will don the number 20 for Club Leon.

Report: Rimando to return to RSL

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USMNT veteran and current MLS free agent Nick Rimando will reportedly return to Real Salt Lake for a 12th season with the club, according to a report by Goal.com’s Ives Galarcep.

The report states he received interest on the free agent market from both Los Angeles clubs, but the 38-year-old will return to the club he has made 350 appearances for.

Rimando came to Real Salt Lake from D.C. United in 2006, and has made at least 24 league appearances in every single season since. He has also made 22 playoff appearances for the club across eight playoff campaigns.

He last received a USMNT cap in January of 2017 in a friendly against Serbia, but was part of the 2018 World Cup qualification squad throughout 2017 backing up Tim Howard. Overall, Rimando has played 22 times for the US national team, with 14 goals conceded and nine clean sheets.

The report also states that Kyle Beckerman will return to Rio Tinto Stadium, with the veteran also testing the free agent waters but deciding to re-sign. The pair will be two of just four players left on the roster from the 2009 MLS Cup winning team.

Report: Aubameyang hands in transfer request at Dortmund

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According to German publication Bild, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has handed a transfer request to the Borussia Dortmund hierarchy.

Arsenal is the latest club linked with the Gabonese striker, with reports earlier this month of a deal to send Aubameyang to China. He has reportedly asked to leave Dortmund multiple times this January, and has been turned down thus far, and it’s causing problems. Aubameyang was suspended by the club for one match for missing a meeting last week, a match that ended in a goalless draw with Wolfsburg.

[ MORE: Man United, Chelsea battle for Alexis Sanchez ]

“We had a very heated discussion,” said Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc after the suspension was announced. “He hasn’t behaved like this for years, he’s always been very professional. What has happened is very tolerable, there will be some fines, too. It’s not necessary to talk about a transfer, but it’s clear that things can’t continue like this because some important things are in jeopardy, and that there is tension inside the squad.”

The price tag, according to recent reports, would be around $76 million, and he would be purchased with money from the likely outgoing transfer of Alexis Sanchez.

Arsenal transfer guru Sven Mislintat is reportedly driving the deal, having signed Aubameyang at Dortmund during his days as a scout from Westfalinstadion. However, there is buzz among the British media that Arsene Wenger is unimpressed by Aubameyang’s recent insubordination and has expressed his concerns.

Emre Can says new Liverpool contract still a possibility

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Liverpool midfielder Emre Can is out of contract this summer, but says he could still sign back on at Anfield despite heavy rumors of his departure.

Still just 24 years old, the German came over from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer of 2014 and has improved in each of his four years at Liverpool, flourishing under Jurgen Klopp as a strong passer and versatile player who can be used in midfield or defense. With that, he has reportedly turned down a number of new contract offers, and Juventus is reportedly in the lead to sign him to a free transfer.

[ MORE: Arsenal should follow Liverpool’s rebuilding example ]

Can is eligible to sign a pre-contract agreement with anyone from now until the end of the season, but he says that doesn’t mean he will leave.

“My agent is looking after everything but I am here until the summer,” Can said. “I haven’t signed anything with anyone. I am talking with everyone. Of course I am talking with Liverpool. Why not? I still have a contract here. It is an amazing club. What can I say? My agent does the rest. I just concentrate on the scene, on my performance and the football. I will give everything for this team.”

The loss of Philippe Coutinho this winter is an obvious blow to the Reds, but an argument could be made that the loss of Can would hurt just as much if not more, as stout defensive midfielders are hard to come by. However, the arrival of Naby Kieta this summer could ease the blow of the German’s potential departure. Should Can stay, partnering with Keita in midfield could prove masterful as Liverpool looks to continue building towards a title challenge. Currently, Can has paired with Giorgino Wijnaldum in Liverpool’s midfield in recent weeks, and the club is on a five-match win streak that has seen them shoot into third place in the Premier League table.