SmorgasBorg: Payne hiring will change face of Toronto FC
No team in Major League Soccer has lost more games over the past six seasons than Toronto FC. And every MLS team that existed back in 2007 has made the playoffs at one point or another over the past six years.
All except Toronto FC.
So what does the least successful team in MLS do to fix things? Go out and get the head honcho of the most successful franchise in MLS history.
Toronto FC made the most important hire of their history on Wednesday by landing D.C. United president Kevin Payne, the person who shaped United into his likeness from the beginning of the league: proud, brash, unrelenting and uncompromising.
If D.C. United have that air of superiority about them, it's because Payne infused them with it from the very start. And there is no one organization more desperate for an injection of confidence than Toronto.
The club needs a culture change in the worst way, and now they're well on their way to becoming "D.C. United North." Former D.C. coach Thomas Rongen runs the TFC Academy. Current TFC director of team and player operations Earl Cochrane was also an employee of Payne's at United. And you figure that's only the start.
WATCH: Payne outlines TFC's objectives
But the Toronto media and fans, meanwhile, have heard it all before: "Things will change." And then they don't. Which is why Payne's interaction with that city will make for a fascinating study.
D.C. United have had down years, but he's never faced anything quite like what awaits him in Toronto. Payne was able to shape D.C. from the very beginning in 1996 and he built allies among Washington media and supporters from the start. Now he has the baggage of six years of negativity to deal with in Toronto. It could make for fireworks.
Because Payne will not take criticism lightly. He will not be the lovable loser. Quite the opposite: He takes no prisoners. There is no league fine that has kept Payne from standing up for his team and saying his piece.
You'll see him in the locker room. He'll be at the occasional practice. He'll be hands on. In fact, his hands will be all over this team, on the field and off.
Some might call it meddling, but it's exactly what TFC need at this point: one man to run the whole show. One person to speak for the organization. One man to give the team its identity across the board: a president, a post which exists for other MLSE-owned major sports teams Toronto Raptors (NBA) and Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL).
"The buck stops with me, so I'm responsible," MLSE president and COO Tom Anselmi said back in June, when he had to let go of TFC's latest leader.
But the buck shouldn't really stop at ownership, right? It should stop well before you get up that high and now it will. With Kevin Payne.
No more in-fighting. No more power struggles. The TFC hierarchy is streamlined and clear with one person at the top of the TFC food chain.
Payne will report directly to Anselmi, who has been the target of grief about the lack of results in recent years. But he's done everything you could ever want from an owner: He's made sure TFC has had their maximum three Designated Players, he's invested heavily in the academy and he went out to bring the big name foreign coach with the big tactical idea.
The Aron Winter experiment didn't work — another foreign test case in MLS that fell flat or wasn't given enough time — and so Anselmi is taking the club in the complete opposite direction by installing a leader who is the single most tried and trusted MLS executive out there. Payne is well-connected. He knows the ins and outs of the league, the player rules and the politics like no one else. Which makes prying Payne away from D.C. after 17 years an unbelievable feat unto itself.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber on Monday hinted that Toronto FC would be making "some bold moves," and he wasn't kidding. TFC have ticket sales and sponsors sales down to a science. There's no soccer stadium that Payne has to worry about. He just has to bring it all together.
“I’ve heard lots of theories," Anselmi said in June about the club's demise, which included a nine-game losing streak to start the season. "If I had an answer, I guess we would’ve fixed it. It’s obviously been a mixture of people, players and poor environment."
That environment is about to get an extreme makeover. Given the combustible and negative atmosphere in Toronto in recent years, it was probably low on the list of desirable destinations in MLS. That's now changed.
No suit can guarantee wins or losses — that's the coach's and players' job. But there's one promise that does come with hiring Payne: Whether you win or lose, you'll never be prouder to support your club.