Nelsen could be poised for a return to MLS, but as a coach


Queens Park Rangers defender Ryan Nelsen is widely-regarded as one of the best defenders to ever come out of Major League Soccer, and now, some eight years after he left D.C. United to play in England, Nelsen could be heading back to MLS.

The Daily Mail got the ball rolling on a rumored Nelsen return to MLS, stating that Nelsen would come back to join the D.C. United coaching staff. Sources tell SBI that Nelsen is actually in talks with Toronto FC, where a move there would re-unite him with former D.C. United president Kevin Payne.

Nelsen, 35, has endured a tough season with last-place Queens Park Rangers, and with the club poised to be relegated at season’s end Nelsen could be ready to make the jump back to MLS.

A move into coaching makes sense for Nelsen, and TFC is in the market for an assistant for Paul Mariner. Toronto could also be tempted to have Nelsen take on a player-coach role, though the team does have a crowded stable of centerbacks that should only get more crowded after the 2013 MLS Draft (TFC has two of the first three picks in a draft with two outstanding centerback prospects projected in the first three picks). There is also the matter of whether TFC would have to offer compensation to D.C. United, the last MLS club Nelsen played for before moving to England.

Adding an accomplished defender like Nelsen as an assistant coach could prove to be a master stroke, particularly given the fact Toronto FC has some talented, young centerbacks on the roster like Doneil Henry and Gale Agbossoumonde. TFC is also expected to add at least one more in the draft. Having a respected player like Nelsen on the coaching staff to groom those defenders could prove invaluable.

What do you think of this development? Like the idea of Nelsen coming back to MLS as a coach? Hoping he finds a way to also suit up?

Share your thoughts below.

This entry was posted in Featured, Major League Soccer, MLS- D.C. United, MLS- Toronto FC. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Nelsen could be poised for a return to MLS, but as a coach

  1. MMV says:

    This rumor popped up last season and it was obviously attached to DCU. He might as well jump ship on QPR. They are sinking fast and it looks like Harry is trying to improve his backline sooner than later. Based on QPR’s play it’s hard to tell if Nelsen has anything left in the tank. He didn’t look good but very few players would given how much pressure their backline is under each game. Whatever the case, Nelsen would be a good fit as a player-coach for TFC or DCU. He brings a world of experience and could really be an asset to the youngsters at each club.

  2. MiamiAl says:

    One of the best defenders in the history of DC United. He should come back to PLAY for DC! As a player, he would solidify that back line for DC in an instant. HE could be a player/coach like Josh Wolff was. DC United was never the same after he left…

    • Nate Dollars says:

      +1. was going to say the same thing about him coming back to play for us.

    • Josh D says:

      Oh for the days when we could rely on Pope then Nelsen. I haven’t been convinced by our back line in years.

  3. MLSfan says:

    Toronto FC is probably willing to throw more money at him.

  4. BFBS says:

    Although he’s 35, judging by what I saw yesterday @ Stamford Bridge, he would an enormous asset to MLS as a player.

  5. OPMG says:

    Could be excellent for the development of those young CB’s. Some people like to point out that Danny Califf and O’dea are there and could be mentors too. But those two are still fighting for paychecks and playing time too. Not every old guy in the league is looking to help out his eventual replacement by offering help and tips.

  6. CSD says:

    He has actually been one of QPR’s better players this year which is all relative. Without his timely defense help they would be even worse off. I think he has at least another year left in his legs in a top European league. Maybe if a good deal for coaching comes along he’ll take it but he is definitely still good enough to be an MLS defender.

    • Beckster says:

      I agree with you on that. He has had one really bad game but the rest of the time he gets 6s and 7s in the Sky sports player ratings. The owner as well as the managers have singled him out as the one player who has really tried his hardest this season. He single-handedly was responsible for some of QPRs better efforts. Given all of that, to say he couldn’t make a major contribution, both as a leader and a CB, for just about any MLS team is not doing him justice. He may be a step slower but he is a great asset and I would love to have him anchoring DCU’s back line any day. Just don’t think it will happen. I wish him the best of luck and hope he lands in a great situation.

  7. CSD says:

    To be a top MLS defender I meant to say.

  8. Old School says:

    Former players managing in MLS is awesome. I’m a huge fan of it for the development of our players.

    • OPMG says:


      I’m selfishly hoping this bodes well for Boss and his development. I just want one over-hyped kid to live up to expectations. The NBA has 40 busts every year, but they also get their Lebron James’s too. The NFL has 3 rookie QB’s in the playoffs…It’s our own fault for jumping all over every kid who can kick a ball straight, but just once I want that kid to come into the league and prove everybody right.

      • The Imperative Voice says:

        Thing to me is someone either gets defense or not. He may or may not be coachable. Be able to get positioning, anticipation, controlled bodying, controlled aggression. For every Opara or Boss who has the physical attributes but doesn’t show the defensive gift there is a Boswell or Parkhurst who knows how to play defense but just doesn’t quite have the speed. This is the US plight right now, looking for complete defenders.

        Put differently, you can get a smart Parkhurst type like Nelsen to coach, but will it get through to Boss?

        Far as the comment about kids panning out goes, if we allow kids to be drafted or signed, what do we expect? There is a degree of hopefulness inherent to it with 16-18 year old kids. NBA now requires a year of college or the equivalent, I think NFL is either 2 or 3 years, you’re talking about ramping some U18 up to playing not just adult ball but professional soccer. And since they’re golden boys the assumption is they should pan out, even though they have the same growth and learning curve every teenage soccer players has to step up to playing with people who are generally 25-30 and in their physical and mental primes.

        The thing is, it’s really more like MLB who lets HS grads get drafted, but then spends years apprenticing them in the minors. An exceptional player spends only a year or two. But MLS in particular has no minors, and only a halfbaked reserve league. The USL idea may provide some sort of equivalent, but the reality of what you are saying is that years of either pro apprenticeship or college or something are necessary to see if a kid will pan out. Going directly pro just places in more stark relief how only so many prospects ever pan out. I think we could do a better job of development but in reality that would still just be a marginal boost on how many do pan out. Because not everyone turns out…..

        • GW says:

          If you are talking only about the US system that is one thing but in the Europe and South America players start very young.

          And the percentage of players who fail is very high indeed because the competition is so intense; of course that is also one reason why those who make it are very good.

          Paolo Maldini made his first team debut for Milan and 16 and was a starter at 17, He played for Milan until he was 41.
          Walter Samuel made his first team debut at 18 for Argentina’s Newell’s Old Boys. Rio Ferdinand and John Terry made their debuts at 18.

          For the really good players debuts at such a young age are not unusual.

  9. Goblin says:

    Wow…I guess this shows that Toronto has no faith in Jim Brennan–TFC’s original signing–to work with the back four.

    • The Imperative Voice says:

      There is no “Toronto,” so to speak? Aggregation of individuals. He was hired as part of Mo Johnson GM era (youth coach), which segued into the Winter era (eventually promoted to AC when de Klerk was “bumped upstairs”). Brennan was a Mo guy as a player who was used as a pawn in the resolution of Winter debacle. It’s now a quite different Payne/Mariner regime and he’s not their guy it seems.

      To the extent you’re invoking TFC tradition, it’s a club with certain memorable players like Dichio, but no players that have excelled, and a lot of mediocre management or outright mismanagement. Should TFC really latch onto their mediocre-to-bad past? There should be no sacred cows. [Heck, I groan when Houston brings back Ching for another year. If they’re not really doing the job nostalgia only keeps you second place.]

  10. KutamaObama says:

    Toronto FC giving DC United compensation for Ryan Nelsen….. Why would Toronto do that? Ryan left DC United eons ago so literarily he is a free agent, right or can someone correct me if I’m incorrect :-)

    • JoeW says:

      I could be wrong on this (both my memory AND how the MLS player ownership rules have changed over time) but…..
      …when Nellie’s contract expired and he announced he was going on trial in the UK, DCU both protected him in the expansion draft and also did not request compensation for him leaving (at that time in MLS, if a marque player left, you got an allocation b/c of it). That meant that they preserved the right to re-sign him and also owned his MLS rights.

      Besides I think you’re missing the point here. To bring Nelsen back as a player would likely be incredibly expensive. As much as I respect him, you can probably find better bargains. The real value would be Nelsen as an assistant coach who you’d groom to eventually take over the club from Mariner. He’s a great leader, the kind of guy that all the players would respect. He’d have tremendous credibility on so many levels and wouldn’t have a problem adjusting to North America or MLS.

    • The Imperative Voice says:

      Maybe TFC wants to leave the door open to player-coaching. In which case to get the player part you have to get the rights. I don’t think DC got a transfer fee so they retain the rights.

      In terms of coaching, you’d think they could hire any coach they want, but maybe it would be a way of preventive book-clearing. “Just so there’s no squabbling take a draft pick.” Might be a tad generous but depends on the pick. With 19 team drafts I think later round picks mean less than when it was a 12 team league.

  11. JoeW says:

    He’s a tremendous guy, a class act, a real leader. I think he’d have the potential to be a fine coach. And unlike many Euro players who’d view coming to America and MLS as a big step down or a holiday, Nellie knows MLS, played college ball here for Bobby Clark, hails for NZ so he’s not full of himself. While in his heart of hearts he’d probably dream of coaching in the Premiership, he probably wouldn’t see coaching a team in MLS as being just a 1 year stepping stone onto something better either.

    While I’d love to see him join DCU as a coach, I don’t think we currently have an opening so TFC makes much more sense on a bunch of levels (connection with Payne, Mariner has major street cred in the UK, Payne’s desire to send a message to TFC players and fans). Any team that gets Nellie (and I’m assuming it’s just as a coach) has gotten a fine assistant.

  12. Bobb says:

    Why can’t he come back as a player coach?
    Josh Wolff did it this past year at DC, as have others for teams like LA and Dallas in recent years…

  13. Stephen says:

    Why is it that I’ve never heard of this guy (besides my lack of MLS and QPR knowledge)? Is it American? If so why has he not been playing with the Nat’s?

    • Beckster says:

      He is the Captain of the New Zealand team. Played and was captain at DCU, went to Blackburn and was captain there. Last spring was at Tottenham I believe and then went with Mark Hughes (former manager at Blackburn). Great player.

    • The Imperative Voice says:

      He came here for college and played D3 and D1 soccer here. But NZ is still behind us soccerwise so he was a NZ NTer before he left Stanford (just like NZ had a NCAA keeper at the Olympics). So he went into MLS but was already captied internationally during college (we haven’t done that since the 90s?). He was a Best XI level back in the 12 team MLS era, before leaving on a free and bouncing around EPL.

      • JMR says:

        I’d hardly call 6 years with Blackburn bouncing around. Tottenham picked him up last spring for insurance and then Mark Hughes picked him up.

  14. MA1 Rodriguez says:

    Nelsen is 35 & trying milk-up all money he can. Plus, Nelsen understands MLS system & how things moves in MLS, hopefully, we get back to MLS.