The next era of Toronto FC began on Tuesday morning as the club named Ryan Nelsen as its eighth head coach in history.
"It's the dawn of a new era, as far as I'm concerned," Toronto FC President Kevin Payne said in a press conference on Tuesday morning at BMO Field. "I always thought that Ryan would end up becoming an outstanding coach."
Nelsen, 35, replaces Paul Mariner, who originally took the reins from Aron Winter in June 2012. Mariner was let go just minutes before the press conference announcing Nelsen's hiring on Tuesday.
"For me, TFC is a shining light in terms of passion," Nelsen said on Tuesday. "That can be matched and then some [on the field]. We'll make my team a very very hard team, a very compettive team, that will nver give up."
A graduate of Stanford University, Nelson was drafted by D.C. United in 2001. (At the time, Payne was the president of United.) In four seasons at RFK Stadium, Nelsen made 81 league appearances, wore the captain's armband, and led the club to the 2004 MLS Cup title.
In 2005, Nelsen moved to the English Premier League and captained Blackburn Rovers for seven years. In January 2012, he joined Tottenham Hotspur, and finally this past summer moved to Queens Park Rangers, where he has become a mainstay at center back.
Nelsen is still under contract with QPR, and said he still has "obligations" to the club, who are currently in last place in the EPL and facing a massive relegation battle over the second half of the season.
Nelsen will not be at this week's MLS Combine or next week's MLS SuperDraft. In his absence, the squad will be run by Fran O'Leary, who on Tuesday was named assistant coach and director of recruitment. He will, Nelsen said, "lead the ship" while Nelsen completes his obligations with QPR.
A native of Dublin, Ireland, O'Leary is a longtime college coach in the United States, most recently with Bowdoin College in Maine. Nelsen met O'Leary in his rookie season at D.C. United, becoming a volunteer assistant coach under O'Leary when O'Leary was head coach at George Mason University.