TORONTO – Kevin Payne’s attempt to change the culture at Toronto FC took a step backward this week, thanks a group of players who showed up at preseason camp out of shape and left the club president demanding more from his new team.
“I told them, ‘You will never, ever come back here after a break looking like this again,’” Payne told reporters on Thursday. “’It just won’t happen, or you won’t be here, end of story.’ Lots of guys did a great job, came back in great shape, but there were more than one or two who were not close to being fit.”
Payne, who joined Toronto FC in November after eight years running D.C. United, said he doesn’t think the club has done a good enough job monitoring the team’s offseason fitness routine, and he’s struggling to understand why players don’t take the initiative on their own.
“Ryan [Nelsen, head coach] feels the same way,” Payne said. “We were kind of joking – being paid to go to the gym, now how hard is that? Most people have to spend money to go to the gym and shoe-horn it into their schedule. There’s just no excuse for it.
“In D.C., we didn’t accept it and there was an enormous level of peer pressure brought to bear on guys that showed up unfit, and we need to get to that point here. That’s not the case right now. I didn’t see any evidence of that within the locker room.”
Payne added that while there were similar problems in the past during his time at D.C. United, the problems were largely fixed after the club set up a fitness program including an online site where players chart their routines three times a week.
“We want to create an environment in which players just feel so much pride and so much personal responsibility where they do the work because they know it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Not because they feel retribution but because they understand if they want to have the success we want to have as a group they have to do this.”
The Reds ended the Toronto portion of their training on Thursday and will travel to Orlando on Friday, where Nelsen will meet them after ending his playing career with Queens Park Rangers on Tuesday.
Payne also confirmed that Toronto FC will play their home opener against Sporting Kansas City on March 9 at Rogers Centre. The next home game, March 30 against the LA Galaxy, will be played at their usual home, BMO Field.