Bill Manning, Ali Curtis, Greg Vanney - Toronto FC - at Curtis press conference
Courtesy of Toronto FC

How GM Ali Curtis navigated wild offseason to lead Toronto FC to MLS Cup

SEATTLE — In getting a new job, the typical onboarding period is saturated with a ton of introductions. You know, the ones where you meet 32 people in a row and have absolutely no realistic chance of even remembering a third of the names. 

Maybe there's a card, or a pencil cup with pens and other useful, if unspectacular, stationery items. Maybe there's a clean workspace, soon to be broken in with papers and the like. Often there's a sense of optimism and good vibes that come with new beginnings.  

Ali Curtis may have experienced all that when he was appointed general manager of Toronto FC at the beginning of January, but he also was given a heavy dose of hard reality. Guess what? Without much warning, you now have to replace Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez. And you have to decide what to do with Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, both in the final year of their Designated Player contracts. And you have to figure out how to guide the team back to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs after surprisingly missing in 2018.

Oh, and here's your security card. Good luck! 

Curtis navigated those choppy waters this winter, having to swim or sink. It's all those massive decisions Curtis led that makes Toronto FC arriving in MLS Cup in his first season north of the border that much sweeter. 

"Nothing is easy in this business or in life, so it does make it sweet," Curtis told ahead of Sunday's showdown (3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TUDN, TVAS, TSN). "It makes it feel good. I’m happy for the people that have supported the club through thick and thin, and the people who have supported me through thick and thin. I’m happy and proud as a person of color, to be in this moment. There’s hope, aspiration and all those type of things. There’s a range of emotions for me this weekend. I want to do the best to support our club, always.”

Curtis, and club president Bill Manning, worked through an arduous process to get Alejandro Pozuelo signed, the crown jewel of the players acquired this season, the Spaniard named to the 2019 MLS Best XI after a glittering debut campaign. Toronto re-signed Altidore before the season began as well as added Quentin Westberg, who won the starting goalkeeping job during the season. 

Toronto started strong then faded, before Curtis tinkered with the squad some more in the summer. The club added a handful of players, most importantly Omar Gonzalez and Nicolas Benezet. The team picked up form as summer gave way for fall, ending the regular season on a 10-game unbeaten run. 

Even then, they weren't given much of a chance this postseason. Altidore got hurt on Decision Day presented by AT&T and hasn't played a minute in TFC's run to MLS Cup. Neither has Gonzalez. But here they are, preparing in Seattle to face the Sounders.  

“This year has not been easy. ... This year wasn’t about a blueprint, the way things started off," Curtis said. "We have good people that are committed, work hard and are smart. We did the best we could to respond to difficult situations and make the right decisions. The decisions we made, you live and die by those.”

Managing difficult scenarios is nothing new to Curtis. It's an inherent part of the gig, anyway, baked into the bread of having one of the coveted general manager jobs in MLS. 

“I don’t know," Curtis said when asked if this was the most difficult season of his career. "I’ve had a lot of different difficult moments in terms of my own career, whether that’s as a player, or working at a bank, or all of a sudden Tampa Bay Mutiny folds, or I figure I want to do a career shift, or I’m working at [the New York] Red Bulls then I’m not working at Red Bulls. There have been a lot of difficult moments.

"Your life, your career, is a story and it’s made up of all these difficult moments," he continued. "You string those moments together, that’s your story. You live in those moments, you embrace that and do the best you can. In this moment, I’ve tried to do the best I can."

This season is Curtis' first back in MLS after mutually parting ways with the Red Bulls just before the 2017 season in which he and the club cited differences leading them to part ways.

Curtis isn't looking back still on that, focused fully on Toronto. 

“I’m happy for our organization," Curtis said after pondering whether he felt personal vindication following his exit from New York. "It’s not so much comparing and contrasting with the Red Bulls and what happened, I’m happy for where we are. I’m happy for our fans, I’m happy for ownership. I’ve always had a tremendous amount of self-belief, as a lot of people do. I like to win. I’m competitive, I felt good about the work at Red Bulls and I’ve moved on. Here, I’m happy with the work. I think I can get better.

"I’m happy we have a chance to win MLS Cup on Sunday," Curtis added. "Then we just try to keep going.”