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.