TORONTO – Toronto FC took a unique route to finding the man they hope can save their franchise on Friday, inking a deal to replace an elder statesman in MLS with a new face unfamiliar to even the league’s most devoted fans.
A 31-year-old New York attorney and former MLS player relations expert, Tim Bezbatchenko, is now sitting in the general manager chair once filled by 60-year-old league architect Kevin Payne, in large part because he knows the ins and outs of every player contract in the league.
Just don’t call him a geek.
“I don’t think this is about a wonk, a capologist or an analytical geek,” MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke said during Bezbatchenko’s unveiling on Friday in Toronto. “I think it is about a guy who works very hard, who is very passionate about the game and who is very driven with regard to filling in all the boxes in a very strategic way. To me, it is as simple as that.
“We have to fill in our boxes and get better.”
Bezbatchenko comes to Toronto after the past three years spent as the senior director of player relations and competition with Major League Soccer. The shift from a role inside the league’s office to one of the top decision-makers for Toronto FC is a large one, but Leiweke insisted that Bezbatchenko is the man to fix a problem that has nagged the club for years.
“As we looked our history, and kind of opened the wounds here and asked ourselves about what we had done wrong and why we have always been unable to make sense of things here, one thing that was very clear is that we have always been struggling with the cap here,” Leiweke said.
“We were always getting out-traded and have always been trying to get rid of bad contracts from Day 1. We have never done a great job of analyzation. We were always about flash and not about work.”
As for Bezbatchenko, the newest member of the Toronto FC management team sounded very much like he is on the same page with Leiweke and head coach Ryan Nelsen with respect to the club's previous failings and the road to a consistently winning team going forward.
“[In my previous role with the league], I learned the way to get the most out of your budget,” Bezbatchenko said. “I saw teams make mistakes and I saw teams do the right things. In my experience, one of the main things is making sure you have proper cap management and don’t have inefficiencies on your budget.”
“In this league, it is critical that you know what is going on around the league – potential trades, and teams up against the cap,” he added. “That is something that I can bring to this team.”