TFC set to name Nelsen new head coach


When Toronto FC hired Kevin Payne to be the team’s new president, it was clear that the Canadian club was going to be handing full power over to the man who helped lead D.C. United to four MLS Cup titles. Now we are about to find out just what Payne has in store for his new club.

Toronto FC is set to relieve Paul Mariner of his duties as head coach, and will replace him with New Zealand international and former D.C. United defender Ryan Nelsen, multiple sources confirmed to SBI on Monday. Nelsen is expected to be introduced as the team’s new head coach as early as Tuesday (a press conference is expected to be called for Tuesday to make the announcement).

It remains unclear whether Mariner will stay on with TFC in any capacity, but one source tells SBI that Mariner will be leaving the club.

Nelsen does not have previous head coaching experience, but hiring a former player without head coaching experience is nothing new for Payne. He hired Peter Nowak and Ben Olsen as head coaches while with D.C. United. Nowak won an MLS Cup title in his first year as a head coach (in 2004) while Olsen has developed into a quality head coach with D.C. United.

Nelsen is not expected to serve as a player-coach for TFC. He is currently under contract with Queens Park Rangers, and is expected to retire to take on the TFC head coaching role.

Nelsen, 35, will take over a TFC side that finished with the worst record in the league last season, a team that has yet to make a playoff appearance in the club’s six-year history.

The move re-unites Payne with Nelsen, who played for D.C. United from 2001 to 2005 before making a move to England.

Toronto FC started the front office shake-up on Monday with the news that technical manager Bob DeKlerk had parted ways with the club.

What do you think of this development? See Nelsen succeeding as a coach? Think Mariner should have been given a chance to coach the team in 2013?

Share your thoughts below.

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67 Responses to TFC set to name Nelsen new head coach

  1. wilyboy says:


  2. michael m says:

    Holy sh**! So much for the player-assistant coach role that was rumored! Much has changed since Nelsen left DCU for England but there’s no doubt having another coach familiar with the league will be a benefit to TCF. Kevin Payne has wasted no time getting to work in Toronto — like he had any choice with their messes!

    • Josh D says:

      He still has it in him to play. A bit sad seeing he won’t. Especially as he was linked with DC last year. We could have used his services.

  3. Sean says:

    Exciting move! Always like Ryan Nelson. Not sure that he will be immediately successful but awesome to have a guy with solid MLS, EPL, and International experience come back to the league as a coach.


  4. Jon says:

    Didn’t see that coming.

  5. Cam says:

    Any idea if he will be a player/coach, or just coach?

    • James says:

      No offense, but did you read the article before you commented?

      “Nelsen is not expected to serve as a player-coach for TFC. He is currently under contract with Queens Park Rangers, and is expected to retire to take on the TFC head coaching role.”

  6. MM says:

    I wish him all the luck in the world. He’s one of my favorite players in DCU history. I wonder how tough he’ll find his first head coaching gig – he has a lot of work to do.

  7. Justin says:

    Does he even have any coaching licenses? Does Ben Olsen? Do you need them in MLS?

    This really doesn’t speak well for things at QPR he’s getting the heck out.

    • Northzax says:

      I don’t know if you need one in MLS, probably not, since there is no managers’ union to deal with. Still, Nelsen has enough caps to get a C level waiver from USSF, at least (no idea about Canada and can’t be bothered to look it up) I don’t think concacaf has an equivalent license scheme to uefa, either. Among current MLS coaches, I know Bruce Arena has an ‘A’, I trust Sigi does as well. Probably Hyndman.

      • K-Town says:

        Martin Rennie got his UEFA Pro license back in 2002, which is the highest license you can get, although the Whitecaps struggled after he tinkered too much with the team last year.

    • Andrew says:

      If you’ve played for so many years as a pro in FIFA, you don’t need to take their classes to be a coach. You’re automatically given your license.

  8. el paso tx wants NASL says:

    Finally mls is hiring average european coaches and for all those haters, it will only help american coaches, so now bring bielsa and lippi.

    • 20 says:

      what do you mean by average European coaches? Nelsen is from New Zealand and has no coaching experience. I may be wrong but I believe that until this news broke, the only coach in MLS with European coaching experience was Paul Mariner.

    • Eric says:

      Since when do Bielsa and Lippi only count as average European coaches? Those are two of the most tactically brilliant coaches in the world?

    • Matt says:

      Wow, yeah a European coach who is actually a Kiwi; who honed his skills not only in MLS, but played college soccer in the US as well. Even at that, he started his first two years in the NCAA at the Division III level before finishing up his last two at the NCAA Division 1. So wow, still trying to understand that comment given he didn’t even head over to Europe until he was 28.

    • chris says:

      Hahahaha you have no idea what youre talking about ever

  9. OPMG says:

    Interesting observation: Seems like commenters were both less than thrilled with NYRB and Montreal’s new coaches because they didn’t have MLS experience, they’re foreign, etc. But (small sample size I know) on this thread people seem pretty excited even though Nelsen has never been a coach at any level, assistant or head, but that seems to matter less.

    That said, there have been a few players who successfully jumped right to HC postions (Kries, Olsen). It sort of feels like a poor to mediocre track record is more upsetting than zero track record or experience. Land of opportunity indeed!

    • malkin says:

      I think the difference in people’s initial reactions is because he was such a successful player in and product of MLS.

    • Sean says:

      It’s more than that, though. Anyone who followed MLS when Ryan Nelson was here know that you get a workhorse-type player like an Olsen or Kreis.

      Add that to his experience in MLS, the English Premier League, and Internationally (being selected as club captain in all three) and his experience coming back from tough injuries and you have the makings of a really great coach.

      • MiamiAl says:


      • Notfollowingyou says:

        +1 +1

      • K-Town says:

        I’m skeptical Nelson will do well at TFC because of the nightmare that is TFC. However, Olsen and Kreis have done very well in MLS. Also, Harry Redknapp’s comments on losing Nelson to MLS are a gushing endorsement:

        “He’s just one of the best pros I’ve ever met in my life,” said Redknapp of a player he signed for Tottenham from Blackburn Rovers. “Fantastic player, great trainer, leader.

        “He’s a massive part of your team. To lose him would be a massive blow for us.”

        Nelson has been a starter for QPR since Redknapp took over.

  10. alex says:

    Thank god, Paul Mariner was absolutely awful.

    He probably is a great assistant coach, but as the number one guy he just never seemed to get it. He was always picking fights and remonstrating on the touch line.

    • The Imperative Voice says:

      There was an initial burst of form when Mariner got there but the team stunk to start the season and then after that flurry went back to stinking. That could be taken as a sign the team stinks so bad no coach could help it for more than a honeymoon period. Or it could also be held against Mariner as a sign of his limited impact.

      Since Mariner didn’t really turn the club around too much, and has a mediocre HC history, I’m indifferent to whether they kept him. This basically feels like they cleaned house of the pre-Payne regime. Nelsen as former DC is Payne’s guy.

      Whether Nelsen’ll be any good as a coach, who knows. Some of Olsen’s lineup choices against Houston were, to me, pivotal to how the series went. Similar guy without much of a transition or apprenticeship. And that TFC team needs serious work, and has fans probably desperate by now for wins and playoffs. Hot seat.

  11. a says:

    YES! No more Mariner! One of the best days in TFC history.

  12. mcvdb says:

    I think its a great choice, but it will take him a couple of years to get it right. Ideally you’d like to have him be an assistant for a couple of year, but Kreis proved it can be done with the right resources and owner support. Wish TFC, Payne and Nelsen all the best.

  13. Beckster says:

    Ryan Nelson is a leader and has both EPL and MLS experience to be successful in this league. It is a risk but I really like it. Wish Nellie all the best. Great opportunity for him!

    • solles says:

      QPR supporters are very depressed, Nelsen could easily play, and succeed, in MLS right now as one of the better center backs in the league.

      • bob says:

        Nelsen is still a very good central defender in the EPL and been excellent at QPR and often the best player on the pitch. He already has many of the attributes required of a good coach. Toronto FC have got a good one.

  14. Geoff McPherson says:

    Toronto is going to get one of the smartest footballers with great motivation abilities, and a work ethic to match. You have to have unique abilities to come from NZ to play 8 seasons in the EPL.

  15. Ace says:

    Oh Happy Day! A bit sceptic about another inexperienced coach, but i’ll gladly put my faith in Nelsen over the horror that is Mariner’s preferred style of footie.

    • Seriously? says:

      Not aTFC fan, but from a distance I’d have to ask, how do you know that was his”preferred”style, and not just the style he thought might give them the best chance to win with the squad they had, coming in mid the season?

  16. MM says:

    Granted everyone new to coaching must start somewhere. Big jump for someone with no experience coaching. Sure its nice that he has International, European & MLS playing experience. Payne knows his man and has faith he can do the job. Lots of hand-holding and risk taking while he learns but TFC can only get better, I suppose, and not worse.

    But it still begs the question, what does a New Zealander International such as Nelsen know of Canadian soccer and how loyal will he be to building the professional soccer scene in Canada in the long run?

    • Sean says:

      Sure it’s a risk, especially if they want results immediately. But this guy has been captain at nearly everywhere he’s been. So you’re getting a leader.

    • JoeW says:

      MM, that’s a very uninformed post.

      1. Payne is big on signing a coach who’s a leader. When he first identified Arena, BA told him “no.” So Payne kept at him. He was willing to let Arena co-coach DCU and the US Olympic Team (a year-long residence squad) all year in order to sign Arena b/c he was convinced Arena would be so effective…b/c of his leadership ability. Ditto with signing Nowak (over a couple of other guys who had already coached as assistants).

      2. Nellie was an amazing team captain in a sport where the good team captains are like coaches on the field. Talk to anyone who played with Ryan Nelsen and they’ll tell you that this man was a force in the locker room, on the practice field and during games…not just as a player but as a leader and man manager.

      3. Nellie played college ball in North America, he was very successful in MLS. Coming to TFC and coaching in MLS isn’t going to be foreign to him.

      4. What does he know of Canadian soccer and how loyal will he be? The man is ending his professional career to coach. He trusts Payne and has a relationship with him. Your questions on this issue are wrong: TFC has been an organizational mess. Now you’ve got two strong personalities (Payne and Nelsen) who will be aligned and focused and will build an on-field organization worthy of TFC’s fans. And that’s the single best commitment that anyone could have to Canadian soccer or building a professional soccer scene in Toronto.

      • MM says:


        1) I didn’t say Payne had poor judgement in characters. On the contrary, he has proven judgement in picking the right man not the right resume. Bruce Arena is stellar example.

        2) Being a natural leader and a stellar Captain does not automatically equate being an excellent coach. Either way, he needs to earn his own coaching qualifications. Kind of goes against the idea of a national coaching curriculum model and standardizing coaching in Canada. If you go hiring head coaches at the professional level who have zilch coaching credentials, what message do you send out there? Its okay coaches don’t need to be trained?! Feels like development of soccer in Canada is going backwards not forwards in that move, even if it pans out in the long run for TFC / MLSE.

        3) I agree his playing history in MLS will definitely be a strength. HE understands the North American game. I didn’t disagree there. Nor that his experience as an international or playing the european game would be a negative. They would be a positive indeed.

        4) Just because he is retiring and showing TFC coaching job interest doesn’t mean he is loyal to the Canadian game or developing the professional game in Canada. Making that assumption is a far stretch. If he was committed to the Canadian game developing, he would ensure he was at least UEFA Pro licensed before even considering the position, right? I could see him on the backend playing ON the TFC team instead of on the sidelines.

        Either way, he can only improve, starting with very little.

        • MM says:

          If TFC & MLSE were supportive of developing soccer standard in Canada, why wouldn’t they a) consider experienced coaches and b) pick from the pool of qualified Canadian coaches out there? At least ensure the head coach they announced today has coached a minute. Its the proverbial slap to the face of Canadian soccer.

  17. jonk says:

    I’m curious, how important is it that the other examples (Novak, Kreis, Olsen) were players that turned around and started coaching their former teammates? Nelson will no doubt command immediate respect given his experience, but still, it’s a little wrinkle to consider.

  18. curmudgeon says:

    This makes me sad. I don’t want to see him on another team’s bench. Blah.

  19. ed - houston says:

    seems like TFC did/doing a better job than montreal or NYRB on the head coaching selection

    • OPMG says:

      Not sure how anyone can make that assertion. None of them have ever coached a minute of MLS soccer, and one of them hasn’t coached a minute of soccer anywhere! At the end of the season, assuming they all make it that far, we can look back and see who made the best choice.

  20. Alex says:

    Mariner to NY Red Bulls PLEASEEEEEE

  21. T$ says:

    Does Toronto still have a team? I thought they folded.

  22. THomas says:

    I wasn’t following MLS then, or soccer for that matter, so had no idea he had played and developed in the USA. But when I watched him at Blackburn and in the World Cup I always loved his style of play and the professional he portrayed himself as. Kind of like Bocanegra in a way.

    Makes a lot more sense now why he was that way having learned he spent a large part of his soccer life here.

  23. Trent says:

    Has TFC had a new coach every season so far?

  24. Derek holder says:

    Just like to say what a great leader he will be for you,he has been first class for QPR this season and with out him would already be relegated

  25. Rick says:

    As a Blackburn Rovers fan and a follower of TFC I think it’s a good appointment. As a player he was solid. Was very highly thought of as club captain and has vast international experience. He has played at the highest level and no doubt will do it in management. Wish him and TFC the best of luck!

  26. Mike in Missouri says:

    As long as Toronto doesn’t pull a Montreal/Jesse Marsch and is patient with him, he should do well.

  27. John says:

    Could this mean that Payne maybe interested in bringing back TFC’s best player ever – Dero??? Hope so ….

  28. Kojo says:

    A good day for US National Team fans since now Agbossoumonde will have an excellent mentor and possibly a good coach as well.

    • Bobb says:

      I didn’t even think about that, this is definitely a good move for Boss’ development at CB.

  29. ACS says:

    QPR is ………. fill in the blank.

  30. bgnewf says:

    just put this on Twitter and thought I would ask it here as well:

    A couple of #MLS questions just in case. When/Who was the last Player/Coach & how does a Player/Coach count against the cap? #TFCNeedsToKnow

  31. Pingback: TFC Set to Replace Mariner with Ryan Nelsen | Soccer Perspectives

  32. edebs says:

    Hell of a last pro game against Chelsea if he retired immediately

  33. Nicky says:

    SOOO excited about Nellie coaching an MLS team!He is a sporting hero down here in New Zealand.Particularly here in Christchurch,his home town.What Toronto FC will be getting is a modern Coach with an integral understanding of the game who has a great work ethic and is a leader with a “can do” kiwi attitude,and inspires loyalty,team-work on/off the park.
    He will be fresh with new ideas/systems,and as he is literally just retiring from a highly successful 12 year career at club/international level,young enough still to relate to his players,and also know the intricate workings of a club at player/management level.
    I am officially a Toronto FC supporter as of 4:30am tomorrow morning (NZ time)

  34. Pingback: Live Video: Toronto FC introduce Ryan Nelsen as new head coach | Soccer By Ives

  35. Kyle Bright says:

    I’ve been a Rovers fan for years, and Nelsen is one of my all time favorite players. Pure class. I’m a Union fan as well, but TFC are definitely my second team