Ryan Nelsen Blazes a Trail From QPR to Canada

By | Sport
'Half Nelson' © Catherine Ivill/AMA/Corbis

Ryan Nelsen’s decision to leave Premier League strugglers QPR for the manager’s job at FC Toronto has been questioned by many in England, however the opportunity is too good to turn down.

Next week Nelsen will trade Loftus Road for a fresh start in Canada with Toronto FC. His new club might be less than six years old but they have big plans for the future.

The MLS side from the city of NHL’s Maple Leafs and the NBA’s Raptors are at the forefront of Canada’s growing football community. They benefit from healthy financial backing from Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, who provided the funds to construct the BMO Field stadium and develop the state- of-the art KIA Toronto FC Academy.

It’s Nelsen’s job to translate those funds into the kind of on-field success the club has yet to enjoy in its short history. In fact, over the last few seasons they’ve missed out on the MLS Playoffs by quite a distance — regularly finishing in the bottom three.

Yet, Toronto have the geographical advantage of almost constant inclusion in the CONCACAF Champions League. Canada’s representative in the competition is decided by the Canadian Championship, which is contested by the country’s four main teams — Toronto, Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact and FC Edmonton — a relatively weak field that Toronto have swept aside for the last four years.

The situation at Toronto FC looks perfectly poised to nurture success: innovative facilities, a bountiful youth system, continental football and a passionate fan base. Now, they can count an enthusiastic young coach amongst their assets.

“I’ve been thinking about coaching since I was 21,” Nelsen said. “I’ve been curious and begged my managers for information. I annoy them constantly about how they run teams. It feels right to put my fingerprint, my DNA on this team.”

While QPR fans will feel Nelsen’s absence, the player himself admitted that he “accepted the end of my playing career about a year ago,” and suggested that manager Harry Redknapp find a younger model to shore up the defence.

Nelsen — who Toronto FC general manager Kevin Payne insists “has better leadership qualities than any professional athlete I have been around” — will appreciate the faith that the Canadians have shown in him at the age of 35.

It’s a rare opportunity at an ambitious club and Nelsen has the right credentials to take full advantage of his bold decision and flourish as a coach.

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