Rebuilding Toronto FC: MLS Insider chronicles the events from Ryan Nelsen's hiring to Michael Bradley's signing

Art by Futbol Artist Network | Illus: Michael Marsicano |

The first sentence of's article about the hiring of Ryan Nelsen as head coach of Toronto FC back on January 8, 2013, reads: "The next era of Toronto FC began on Tuesday morning."

Little did we know how prescient that would turn out to be. 

Since then, TFC have seen changes from top to bottom. MLS Cup-winning executives have taken control of the business operations, and big-name signings – Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, et al. – have brought some real international cache to the squad. It's all helped resurrect the buzz around BMO Field, something that had been lost for a while as the team struggled year in and year out, failing to make the playoffs in its first seven seasons.

And the fact remains: TFC have still not made the playoffs. But they've looked good out of the gates, winning their first two matches of the season for the first time in club history. Here's a look at the moves and moments that they got them to this point.

January 8, 2013: Ryan Nelsen hired as head coach. The former D.C. United star and MLS Cup champion hangs up his boots at EPL side Queens Park Rangers to take the reins at BMO Field. 

March 1, 2013: Jonathan Osorio signed. The young TFC Academy star makes the jump to the first team. Within three months, he makes his Canada debut.  

June 2013: Tim Leiweke named president of TFC owners Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. Former LA Galaxy boss brings a track record that includes two MLS Cups and the signing of David Beckham. "I happen to think the fans of the Toronto football club deserve that kind of player if you can find them," Leiweke said. "I’ve been told by the [MLSE] board and the owners if we find the right guy, we’ll be all in." 

July 2, 2013: Steven Caldwell signed. Scottish international center back arrives at BMO after more than a decade with English clubs Newcastle, Sunderland, and Wigan Athletic, among others. After two months, he is named club captain.   

July 25, 2013: Alvaro Rey signed. Spanish midfielder impresses in a trial and winds up making 13 starts in the second half of the season.

September 20, 2013: Tim Bezbatchenko hired as general manager. The young MLS league executive is picked by Leiweke to replace Kevin Payne and make TFC competitive on the field. Within six months, he will have found salary-cap space and helped shepherd half a dozen transformative deals.

October 29, 2013: Leiweke promises that TFC will make the playoffs in 2014. Speaking at a business function in Toronto, the MLSE boss makes a bold prediction: "Mark it down, write it down, film it … We're going to turn TFC around and we're going to make the playoffs next year. We know where we're headed, we know how to get there. We've been given the resources of this ownership group and we will get to the right place."

December 9, 2013: Jackson acquired in trade with FC Dallas. The Brazilian midfielder arrives with roughly 100 appearances for FC Dallas, including a start in the 2010 MLS Cup, played at BMO Field.

December 9-13, 2013: Justin Braun and Danny Koevermans are let go, and Stefan Frei and Bobby Convey are traded. Bezbatchenko clears cap space to set up for bigger things to come.

December 13, 2013: Gilberto signed. The 24-year-old forward, with nearly 50 goals to his name in the Brazilian leagues, is the first Designated Player signed by Bezbatchenko & Co.   

December 17, 2013: Justin Morrow acquired. A trade with San Jose brings the accomplished and steady left back, filling a team void.  

January 9, 2014: Dwayne De Rosario signed. The prodigal son returns to face, as he says, "unfinished business." 

January 10, 2014: Jermain Defoe signed. A bloody big deal. The England international leaves Tottenham Hotspur to join the Reds, a bold move in a World Cup.

January 13, 2014: Michael Bradley signed. In what is hailed as a game-changing move, the US national tream star leaves Serie A club AS Roma "to come to Toronto and play a huge role in every part of this team and this club, and having to take a lot of responsibility and put it on my shoulders, that motivates me. It challenges me."

February 14, 2014: Julio Cesar signed. The starting goalkeeper for the Brazilian national team comes on loan, a signing coup for TFC ahead of the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. 

March 15, 2014: TFC open season at Seattle. In what is billed as Clint Dempsey vs. Michael Bradley, it's Defoe who steals the show, scoring two goals in a 2-1 win. 

March 22, 2014: TFC beat D.C. United in home opener. The old buzz is back at BMO, and Defoe sends everyone home happy after notching another goal in a 1-0 win. It is the first time in TFC history the club has opened a season with two victories.

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