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.

Injuries aren’t halting Red Bulls from proving to be MLS’ top club

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It would have been understandable if the New York Red Bulls dropped their heads in agony last month after the club’s disappointing CONCACAF Champions League defeat to eventual tournament winners Chivas de Guadalajara.

[ MORE: NYCFC’s Vieira close to signing contract with Nice ]

That wasn’t the case though, and for manager Jesse Marsch and Co., the club has been rewarded in the biggest of ways for its perseverance.

Sunday night’s 3-1 win over Atlanta United proved once again in 2018 that this season’s Red Bulls are the class of MLS for a number of reasons.

The team’s 7-3-0 start is its best in modern Red Bulls history, which dates back nine seasons to when Red Bull Arena was first opened in 2010.

Marsch and his group currently ride a four-match win streak, which includes away wins over LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and Atlanta, with a 4-0 beatdown of rivals New York City FC bunched in the middle of the road trip.

It’s easy to look at wins and losses to determine which teams are serious MLS Cup contenders and others that will struggle throughout the season, but when diving deeper into this Red Bulls team, there are a lot of special qualities that make them different than previous years.

Heading into 2018, questions surrounded the team following Sacha Kljestan’s departure for Orlando City, as well as the club’s ability to defend with a back line that didn’t appear to have much depth.

The Kljestan question has not only been answered, but turned into Alejandro “Kaku” Gamarra becoming a household MLS name and legitimate MVP and Newcomer of the Year candidate.

The Argentine (possibly turning Paraguayan) leads MLS in assists (9) through the Red Bulls first 10 matches, after Kljestan posted 17 for the club during the 2017 campaign.

Kaku is a spark plug that manages to find himself in the right positions on the field at any given moment, and his work rate perfectly matches what Marsch his instilled in the squad since the moment he first arrived.

Defensively, the Red Bulls have far exceeded expectations, conceding the fourth-fewest goals (12) in MLS, despite a host of injuries.

Jamaica international Kemar Lawrence went down with a scary injury on Sunday, leaving his immediate availability with the club unknown, while Homegrown player Kyle Duncan will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

That’s not including outside back Connor Lade, who has battled an ankle injury early in the 2018 campaign as well.

While the addition of Kaku has paid dividends in the biggest of ways in the attack though, it was the Red Bulls ability to bring in center back Tim Parker from the Vancouver Whitecaps that has really changed the team’s outlook at the back.

Parker has formed a strong bond with fellow central defensive partner Aaron Long, and the two are easily the best center back pairing in MLS through the opening two-plus months.

The bigger test for the club in the long-term will be if Lawrence does miss significant playing time, though.

That would force Marsch to rely more on Lade, who only returned from injury on Sunday to replace Lawrence, or young outside back Ethan Kutler, unless the Red Bulls manager opts to switch to a three-back system (as he has done in the past).

Nainggolan ends Belgium career after World Cup snub

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As World Cup squads fill out their rosters ahead of next month’s great tournament in Russia, a number of high-profile names won’t feature at the World Cup.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Spanish Chelsea trio ]

Belgium named its 28-man provisional squad on Monday, which includes Premier League stars Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, however, one notable midfielder was left out of Roberto Martinez’s squad.

Radja Nainggolan won’t be on the plane to Russia next month for the Red Devils, who take on England, Panama and Tunisia in the group stage.

That decision by Martinez has prompted the AS Roma midfielder to end his international career, which Nainggolan revealed in a social media post following the announcement.

Martinez commented on the Roma player’s omission from the roster.

“Radja is a top player,” Martinez said. “The reason is tactical. In the last two years the team has worked in a specific manner. Other players had those roles.

“We know that he has a very important role in his club and we cannot give him that role in our squad.”

Emery set to replace Wenger at Arsenal

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Unai Emery will be the next man up for Arsenal, with the BBC calling it a “unanimous choice” from Arsenal’s search committee.

[ MORE: Nashville hires ex-Liverpool CEO ]

The BBC’s David Ornstein is reporting that Arsenal will appoint the ex-PSG and Sevilla boss as its new manager.

Emery had massive success with Sevilla in tournament and league play, and led PSG on a rollicking run through Ligue 1 but was deemed replaceable thanks to a Neymar-less loss in the UEFA Champions League.

The Basque manager will be the first Arsenal manager not named Arsene Wenger since the Frenchman took over at the Emirates on Oct. 1, 1996.

It feels a natural fit, as Emery has had success with multiple systems at both favorites and relative underdogs.

Emery has also overseen Spartak Moscow, Almeria, and Valencia.

Mikel Arteta and Thierry Henry were also rumored as potential Wenger successors.

Transfer rumors: Willian, Alderweireld to Manchester United

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The transfer rumor mill is picking up steam this Monday, including some persistent whispers regarding two Premier League players with possible futures at Old Trafford.

Both of these make a lot of sense.

[ MORE: Nashville hires ex-Liverpool CEO ]

A day after Nemanja Matic stressed the need for experienced players at United, two good fits hit the rumor mill (again).

Matic’s old Chelsea pal Willian has interest from United if he seeks a way out of London — which seems likely — where he’s said to be ready to go if Antonio Conte remains as manager.

Then there’s Toby Alderweireld, whose been very strong at Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur but reportedly fallen out with current Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino.

During a rut, the Tottenham manager claimed that Alderweireld was held out of Spurs’ lineup due to the form of the players in front of him.

Also from Sky, we’ll leave this quote from PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi on the idea of possibly selling Kylian Mbappe.

Al-Khelaifi told Canal+: “You want me to give you a number? More than €1bn! Yes, I said one billion! And even if you gave me a billion, I wouldn’t sell him.”