TORONTO – It was news that came as a surprise to sports fans across Southern Ontario.
But the Thursday announcement that Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment president and CEO Tim Leiweke would step down next summer was expected within the Toronto FC organization, team general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said, and he doesn’t expect the club to miss a beat.
“This was always sort of the plan for Tim,” Bezbatchenko told MLSsoccer.com in the wake of the annoucement. “We knew it wasn’t going to be a long-term thing. I guess it was more of a surprise to the public in terms of the timing of when it was announced and how it was announced. We knew that he was here to shake things up and get people to think big and I think that’s what he’s done. His legacy will endure.”
That legacy includes revitalizing Toronto FC with three Designated Player signings in Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley and Gilberto last offseason, all of whom Leiweke had personally worked with to bring to the club.
Bezbatchenko said that Leiweke, who plans to step down by June 30 of next year or when a replacement is found, also helped establish Toronto FC as a key pillar in the MLSE structure.
“For TFC, I know what he’s allowed us to do is to be in the very fabric of MLSE,” Bezbatchenko said. “Soccer is a growing sport and Tim’s knowledge of soccer was extremely helpful to getting the board and the city of Toronto to understand how important this sport is, how it can really elevate our city to a whole new level in the wider sports landscape.”
Prior to Leiweke’s appointment, many TFC fans felt, perhaps, that their team took a backseat to the NHL outfit, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the city’s NBA team, the Toronto Raptors. Leiweke ensured that Toronto FC was given an equal footing in his plan to bring change to the organization.
Bezbatchenko said Leiweke’s plan is such that he doesn’t believe Toronto FC will be forgotten under the next president/CEO of the organization.
“We’ve created a vision at TFC that we’re living and seeing out every day,” Bezbatchenko said. “That vision’s not going to change. It has us [looking to] consistently win championships and building from the ground up, focusing a lot of attention on innovation and on the Academy and on analytics – those are the type of things that I was brought here to do and I don’t see that changing no matter who would come in next year.”
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That vision, crafted by Leiweke and Bezbatchenko, extends to big-name player signings and negotiations, a skill the TFC general manager said will remain as strong as ever for his team.
“Toronto is a world-class city with a very diverse population, an incredibly sophisticated sports landscape, a strong organization backing in MLSE and what I would say the most important thing Tim created is a roadmap for winning,” Bezbatchenko continued. “You could see it. I was in front of the board and I had to provide my vision for what we were doing on a monthly basis and the board now knows what it takes to go out and acquire the likes of Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley and Gilberto and Dwayne De Rosario. I think his presence will be felt for a long time at this company.”
With Leiweke still at the helm for about another year, Bezbatchenko said his team is still singularly focused on achieving their promised playoff target.
“He’s going to be with us until next June and his goal is to get all the teams into the playoffs,” Bezbatchenko said. “We’re going to make sure that happens.”