Nelsen's QPR duties force novel managerial set-up at TFC

Kevin Payne is named president of Toronto FC

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of Toronto FC

Toronto FC unveiled a new head coach on Tuesday, but he won't actually be on the bench when team opens its 2013 season on March 2.

Actually, they're not sure exactly when he'll be on the Toronto sideline.

In a set-up that is unprecedented in the history of MLS, Ryan Nelsen was named manager by Toronto FC during a press conference despite the fact that he is still under contract with English Premier League club Queen's Park Rangers.

"We’re not sure when he’ll join us," TFC president Kevin Payne told media at BMO Field on Tuesday. "We want to be very respectful of QPR. Ryan has been an important player for them. Anybody that watched them beat Chelsea last week knows that.

To make room for Nelsen, TFC announced they had parted ways with former manager Paul Mariner just before Tuesday's press conference.

"It’s not an ideal situation," Payne continued. "I’d love it if Ryan was able to start full-time tomorrow or today, but we understand the situation. … It’s not a perfect situation, but it will be one that we will deal with."

Nelsen wasn't clear about what the upcoming discussions with QPR will specifically entail. The London club is mired in a desperate relegation battle and QPR manager Harry Redknapp has already expressed that losing Nelsen would be a "massive blow" for the club should the New Zealander depart before the end of the EPL campaign.

"At the moment, I’m under contract for QPR and they’re in a difficult situation, aren’t we?" Nelsen said. "And I have to respect Harry and Tony [Fernandes, club owner] and we’ll be talking obviously when I get back. At the moment that’s all I can really say.

"Obviously, they’d like me to keep playing, but they understand my situation as well," continued Nelsen. "So we just have to sit down and talk. If we can win five straight, that'd be perfect and we can shake hands. We’re going to have to talk and see how things progress."

According to Payne, the negotiations and talks with QPR will be handled by Nelsen and his agent.

"I'll be talking with QPR and hopefully in the next few weeks, something will get resolved," Nelsen told TFC Live after the press conference. "It's a horrible situation and I don't want to leave them in the situation they are."

In Nelsen's absence, the day-to-day duties of running the club will fall to newly hired assistant Fran O'Leary, a college coach who got to know Nelsen when he was a coach at George Mason University and Nelsen played at D.C. United.

O'Leary and the rest of the Toronto FC technical staff will also cover for Nelsen at the MLS Player Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., later this week and the MLS SuperDraft on January 17, when TFC will have the No. 1 and No. 3 overall picks.

"I know when I’m not there, Fran wil lead the ship 100 percent and with the fantastic staff that already exists at the moment," Nelsen said.

Payne, who drafted Nelsen while at D.C. United ahead of the 2002 season, assured fans that the novel, short-term coaching set-up will pay off when Nelsen assumes the job full-time.

"There will be days we hope that Ryan will be able to engage with us in the interim while he remains a player with QPR," Payne said.

"My feeling about Ryan is that he’s going to be leading this team for five years to come and if I have to wait a couple of months for him to start that process, I can afford to wait. I’d rather do that instead of making a decision I didn’t want to make in the short term."