TORONTO – Center back Darren O’Dea was pleasantly surprised when he learned Tuesday that Ryan Nelsen was set to become Toronto FC head coach on a full-time basis earlier than expected.
“It’s important,” O’Dea said when told that Nelsen would be taking over permanently on Feb. 1. "We were poor with a manager; what were we going to be like without a manager?"
When Nelsen (above) was announced as the replacement for Paul Mariner on Jan. 8, it was not certain when he would be able to start on a full-time basis because of playing commitments with English Premier League side Queens Park Rangers, who are battling to keep their place in the top flight.
“Certainly it was something I was concerned with when he was first appointed,” O’Dea said. “I was delighted with the appointment and obviously sad for Paul because he’s a fantastic man.”
Now that has been resolved, and not only will Nelsen take over full-time in February, but he has spent the entire week with TFC as they begin their preseason preparations.
“I’m obviously delighted with that and the first few days of training have been fantastic,” the Republic of Ireland international said. “He’s played at the top level at my position so he’s going to teach me a lot.”
The announcement was a positive start to the first week of training for the Reds, who won five league games last season and missed the playoffs for the sixth year in a row.
Nelsen will return to England to play in his final game on Jan. 29 when QPR take on defending champions Manchester City in a league match. Defender Richard Eckersley said he will be watching on television.
“It will be great to watch him,” Eckersley said. “I’m excited to see him play and bossing the back four. He knows what he’s talking about. When you’ve had so many years at the top level, you’ve got a lot of experience. I’m very impressed with him on a one-to-one basis. He’s always talking to the players and I think that is how you get the best out of your players.”
That should ease some of the worries about the fact that Nelsen has never coached before.
“I think he’s going to be a fantastic manager,” Eckersley said. “He’s got the experience [as a player] in the MLS.”
Center back Danny Califf, who was picked up by Toronto in the Re-Entry Draft said he was surprised that Mariner was let go, but is more than happy to play for Nelsen, a frequent opponent of his in the early 2000s.
"I think if you ask around, it probably caught a lot of people by surprise,” he said. “But Ryan getting hired, you couldn’t pick a better guy to take the team to the next level. He’s certainly got a ton of ambition. He has something to prove, I think. And those two things I think [in] coaches really light a fire under you.”