Considering Ryan Nelsen and new MLS managers: What kind of experience counts?

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(Update: The Nelsen hire is official, but there is some weirdness afoot with the new manager’s starting date. Read about it here.)

If reports out of Toronto are to be believed – and there’s no reason to think them wrong at this point – Ryan Nelsen will be named Toronto FC manager today.

For the worriers and fearful out there, you probably have some reason to fret here.

Start with the lack of success around Toronto FC, where seven managers have come and gone, none having ever guided the Reds to a playoff spot. Chris Cummins, percentage points above .500 with a 12-11-8 mark, was technically the most “successful.”

So, at some point, you have to wonder if the rot is at the top; I am certainly not the first to question the true commitment to winning of a professional sports team operated by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. So, check that box for properly aimed anguish.

Then there’s Payne as the selector; his choices have a mixed record, as I mentioned yesterday toward the bottom of this post.

Then there’s Nelsen’s lack of experience. On this matter, I say “No worries, man!” I just wouldn’t be too concerned, for history says this can be done.

Nelsen is clearly untested as a manager; he’s 35 years old and counted himself as a fully professional (and highly respected) player just a week ago. But in terms of professional managerial experience, he has every bit as much as you or I.

But here is where I point out that “MLS experience,” even if it’s just as a player, outstrips “managerial experience” as an essential element that provides the best chance for success.

Nelsen may not know much about MLS 2.0; he hasn’t been part of the league since 2005. MLS had just grown to 12 teams that year, with just four dedicated soccer stadiums in use and still carrying a lot of questions about long-term potential.  The growth since then (19 teams, with 16 playing in grounds built, rebuilt or refurbished expressly for MLS clubs) has been nothing short of staggering.

So, it’s a different MLS day. Still, Nelsen understands the essential elements. He knows the history. He gets it. All of which is to say, he won’t be paralyzed by challenges unique to MLS. He won’t stubbornly resist when an owner of GM explains why things are why they are here. He won’t be in denial about which types of players work and don’t work here.

I am not saying he’s a going to be a great manager; no one can know this. I’m just saying, his history in MLS gives provides a good shot.

As for Nelsen’s age? That’s a non-factor. Here’s why:

Jason Kreis was 34 when he became manager at RSL, and was 36 when the men of Rio Tinto won an MLS Cup. (Kreis remains the youngest to win one of those.)

Ben Olsen was 33 when he took over at D.C. United, and that’s turning out pretty well.

Jay Heaps was 35 when he took over New England. His first year was inconclusive, although we have to consider the difficulty in Heaps’s situation. This is a tough place to win; the man is doing what he can at an organization that has been lapped by pretty much every club this side of Chivas USA.

Bottom line: I worry a lot less about Nelsen and his lack of time with the coaching whistle, and a lot more about MLS newbies like Paulo Sousa, who may soon be named at New York, or Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, the new man in charge at Chivas USA, or the Montreal Impact’s new manager Marco Schallibaum.

Young coaches can work in this league. Previous grounding in MLS counts for a lot more than previous work with the coaching whistle.

Club World Cup: Kashima beat Chivas 3-2, will meet Real Madrid

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AL AIN, United Arab Emirates (AP) Japanese side Kashima Antlers beat Chivas of Mexico 3-2 on Saturday, advancing to a semifinal against Real Madrid at the Club World Cup.

Ryota Nagaki canceled out Angel Zaldivar’s early goal for Chivas and Kashima took the lead when Serginho converted a penalty in the 69th minute.

Hiroki Abe assured the win with a goal in the 84th before Hugo Leonardo scored an own goal in stoppage time.

Kashima will play Madrid on Wednesday.

Madrid needed extra time to beat Kashima 4-2 in the 2016 final of the Club World Cup.

Also, Al Ain FC beat Esperance Sportive de Tunis 3-0, setting up the other semifinal with South American champion River Plate on Tuesday.

La Liga: Atleti pull level with Barcelona; Real two points back

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ SERIE A: Cristiano Ronaldo scores winner in his first Turin derby ]

Real Valladolid 2-3 Atletico Madrid

Despite a largely indifferent run of form from superstar Antoine Griezmann (just four goals in the first 15 games) to start the season, Atleti managed to hang around in the title race thanks to their league-best 12 goals conceded. Griezmann was always likely to experience something of a World Cup hangover before eventually breaking out and resuming regular service as one of La Liga’s most prolific goalscorers.

Saturday might have been Griezmann’s re-emergence, as the 2018 World Cup winner bagged a brace, including the game-winning goal in the 80th minute, to help Atleti to a 3-2 victory over Real Valladolid.

Nikola Kalinic put the visitors 1-0 ahead before halftime and Griezmann converted from the penalty spot to make it 2-0 as soon as the second half began, but a goal conceded followed by an own goal capped off a dreadful six-minute spell for Diego Simeone’s side. Griezmann was there to save the day, though, popping up at the right place at the right time when Valladolid failed to clear a corner kick and gave Los Rojiblancos three clear-cut chance from inside 10 yards.

Real Madrid 1-0 Rayo Vallecano

Real Madrid scored their game-winning goal nearly 70 minutes earlier than their capital rivals, but their victory wasn’t anymore comfortable as Santiago Solari’s side held on for dear life — and were out-shot 11-9 — by Rayo Vallecano.

Karim Benzema bagged the game’s only goal in the 13th minute before he was forced off with an ankle injury in the 77th minute. Madrid were without Gareth Bale due to an ankle injury of his own. Los Blancos will now depart for the United Arab Emirates where they’ll face Japanese side Kashima Antlers in the semifinals of the Club World Cup on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 1-0 Real Sociedad
Eibar 1-1 Valencia

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Sevilla v. Girona — 6 a.m. ET
Espanyol v. Real Betis — 10:15 a.m. ET
Huesca v. Villarreal — 12:30 p.m. ET
Levante v. Barcelona — 2:45 p.m. ET

Serie A: Ronaldo scores winner in his first Turin derby

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ PL PREVIEW: Liverpool v. Man United at Anfield; Chelsea, Arsenal in action ]

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Cristiano Ronaldo marked his Turin derby debut by scoring the game’s only goal, from the penalty spot, to extend Juventus’ winning streak to seven league games and open up an 11-point lead in the scudetto race.

Torino held strong for more than an hour, despite being forced to sub off starting goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu in the 20th minute. It was Sirigu’s replacement, Salvador Ichazo, who gave away the penalty when he brought down Mario Mandzukic in the 70th minute. Ichazo nearly made the save to preserve the scoreless draw for the home side, but Ronaldo’s powerful strike got past the Uruguayan to take his season tally to 11 goals (to go with five assists) in 16 appearance in league play.

Inter Milan 1-0 Udinese

Inter ended a seven-game winless skid (all competitions) with a narrow home victory over Udinese. Luciano Spaletti’s side left it even later than Juve, waiting until the 76th minute before Mauro Icardi converted from the penalty spot.

Despite the prolonged period of poor results, Inter have a six-point lead on fourth-place AC Milan, who have yet to play this weekend, but have tumbled to 14 points back of the runaway leaders.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

SPAL v. Chievo — 6:30 a.m. ET
Fiorentina v. Empoli — 9 a.m. ET
Frosinone v. Sassuolo — 9 a.m. ET
Sampdoria v. Parma — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari v. Napoli — 12 p.m. ET
Roma v. Genoa — 2:30 p.m. ET

The 2 Robbies: Gabriel Jesus puts Man City back on top of PL

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Robbie Earle braves it alone without Robbie Mustoe for this one, but is joined by members of NBC’s Premier League crew — Jen Calhoun, Mike Wolosz and Jorge Bustamante — to discuss Manchester City’s win over Everton (0:45), Tottenham’s last-gasp victory against Burnley (12:00) and hear from a true Bournemouth fan after their defeat to Wolves (19:15). Plus a look ahead to Liverpool v. Manchester United — can Jose Mourinho pull off one more special upset? (31:10)

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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