TORONTO – When Ryan Nelsen took over as head coach of Toronto FC, a handful of players made the leap across the pond with him. Unknown players like Hogan Ephraim and John Bostock followed Nelsen to Canada and the path from England to Toronto was paved.
But who would have thought that in a few short months, world-class players like Jermain Defoe and Júlio César would tread that very same road to TFC?
Nelsen is well-connected, of that there is no doubt. He and Júlio César played together at Queens Park Rangers, and the goalkeeper noted during his introductory news conference on Friday, that he decided to join Toronto FC because of that relationship.
“I want to thank Ryan, really, for the relationship he’s established with players he’s formerly played it,” TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said. “It just shows the type of player and person Ryan is, that people are reaching out to him and are excited to play at a club with and for him.”
Nelsen sees these signings as natural upgrades to his roster. The acquisitions of Steven Caldwell, Bradley Orr and Defoe were made to better his side, not merely to link up with former teammates.
“I keep in contact with a lot of ex-players,” Nelsen said. “As soon as I got a sniff of that [opportunity to acquire Júlio César], it didn’t take long to register how important it would be for Julio to be amongst our guys. His reputation on the field is second to none, but off the field he’s a leader, a winner.”
More remarkable is that in the span of a few short weeks, Toronto FC has accumulated three players expected to head to this summer's FIFA World Cup – potentially four, should Bright Dike make the Nigeria roster.
And the moves have helped change the perception surrounding Toronto FC management, with returning veteran Dwayne De Rosario admitting he wouldn't have returned to the team he so famously left in scorn had it not been for the presence of MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke and Nelsen.
Júlio César’s move is born on equal footing.
“Julio could have gone to a lot of places to get games for the World Cup and to get fit and ready to go, but he chose Toronto and Major League Soccer,” Bezbatchenko said. “That’s a testament to what this league has done and what this club has done in terms of leadership in the last six months.”