Toronto FC: Ryan Nelsen’s inexperience cost him his job

Toronto FC

Ryan Nelsen inexperience was on display during his time with Toronto FC.

Ryan Nelsen set himself up to fail when he agreed to be Toronto FC’s head coach while he was still under contract as a player with English Premier League club Queens Park Rangers.

The 36-year-old year old had the audacity to come into an evolving league with no coaching experience, and that decision backfired on Sunday when he received his marching orders. Nelsen finished his tenure at Toronto with a 15-26-17 league record.

As most people expected, TFC was one of the worst teams in the league in Nelsen’s first year. That year Nelsen wasn’t the man to blame for his side’s misfortunes: the front office was at fault. The new manager lacked the talents and depth to outmuscle Eastern Conference foes.

However, the front office made amends prior to the 2014 season. They brought in USMNT cult hero Michael Bradley, EPL legend Jermain Defoe, signed Brazilian striker Gilberto, managed to secure a loan deal for Brazil’s starting goalkeeper Júlio César and brought in a couple of MLS veterans.

[Gilberto is hitting his stride at the right time]

On paper, Toronto’s team looked slightly indomitable. For the first time in club’s short history, they actually looked like contenders for the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup. But those lofty expectations faded with Nelsen at the realm.

To be fair to Nelsen, he was a pretty decent manager; what hurt him was his inexperience. On a good day, the former New Zealand international got his tactics right and TFC joined a coterie of MLS super clubs, but Nelsen also had his bad days, lots of them.

Even with a solid squad, Nelsen was unable to develop a strategy to make Toronto a force in the league. He didn’t know what how to use the deluge of talents at his disposal.

After a strong start to the season, Nelsen’s questionable tactics have led to the hemorrhaging goals and bad results since late July.

An argument can be made that injuries – most notable casualties were leading scorer Defoe and team captain Steven Caldwell – led to Nelsen’s downfall, but in a league as physical as the MLS, that isn’t a valid argument. The young manager knew what he was getting into, but still could not figure out how to get the best out of his squad players.

In the latter stages of his time with the Canadian club, Nelsen’s tactics were cumbersome. His team lacked fluidity, cohesion and most importantly, the distinct drive and hunger that separate playoff teams from the rest of the pack.

Nelsen found himself in unfamiliar territory and didn’t know how to slalom his way out of trouble. With Defoe out, Nelsen had no one to turn to in times of difficulty. He had to conjure up something to redeem himself, but he failed miserably.

With the front office dissatisfied with the team’s direction, General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko applied some much-needed pressure when he said, “I think everyone would agree — the coaches, the players — that over the last 12 or so games, it hasn’t been good enough, at least for making a run in MLS.”

Nelsen didn’t appreciate the GM’s statement and the head coach sealed his faith after his team’s atrocious performance against New England Revolution. Nelsen made what I like to call a rookie mistake and latched out at his boss.

According to, Nelsen said “The guys came out stiff, they looked a wee bit aggravated mentally I think, and they felt like it this was way more of a pressure game than actually it was.”

He made matters worse when he answered a question about Bezbatchenko’s comments. A reporter asked him if the GM’s comments helped the matter and Nelsen said, “Not at all. Absolutely not.”

It is an unwritten law in life that you never bad-mouth your boss ‒ especially when the fans aren’t happy with you and are calling for your head – but Nelsen disobeyed that code and he paid dearly.

Now that he knows the discipline and competence needed to lead a team and he’s tasted the hardship that comes with the stressful position, Nelsen will most likely make better strides at his next gig. Maybe it might be in the MLS, we just have to wait and see.

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