When Kevin Payne is, as was widely reported Tuesday, ushered in as the first official “president” of Toronto FC on Wednesday, no one will be more pleased than his counterpart with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Bob Lenarduzzi was as curious as anyone who follows Major League Soccer in this country when MLS commissioner Don Garber said Monday that, after six years of underachievement, TFC was about to make some “bold moves.” But he also knows that his club, the first Canadian franchise to reach the MLS playoffs this past season, needs a strong rival in the Toronto market.
“Toronto’s success is critical for Vancouver, and critical for Montreal, it’s critical for MLS,” he said, “so the commissioner coming out and making that statement, I think illustrates that he also understands that a market that has had some tough times is in fact going to do some things that will surprise a few people, and I’m all for that.”
Given the tale of woe that was this past season for Toronto, few of the club’s faithful would disagree. But in hiring the 59-year-old Payne, who had been with D.C. United in various capacities since the league’s inception in 1996 – guiding them to four MLS Cups along the way – Lenarduzzi feels the club has a chance to finally turn the corner.
“As far as Kevin Payne goes,” he said, “you’re getting a guy who has a proven track record in MLS and that kind of knowledge and experience and leadership I would think is something that will be invaluable to a club like Toronto.”
The move will also bring TFC in line with the other Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment sports properties in having a dedicated president, a role Brian Burke fills with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Bryan Colangelo with the Toronto Raptors.
It will also allow recently appointed MLSE president and chief operating officer Tom Anselmi to get out of the firing line. Previously MLSE’s vice-president, Anselmi was the one nominally held accountable by fans and media for TFC’s inadequacies as a succession of head coaches were hired and fired – incumbent Paul Mariner is the seventh man to accept that poisoned chalice.
“Tom has always been up front and candid about his level of soccer expertise,” Lenarduzzi explained. “I’m sure it’s greater now than it was six years ago but that’s not his responsibility. You hire people, you bring them in and you put them in positions that you need to fill. I think in the case of Tom and with the whole MLSE and the new ownership that things are changing and he probably has more requirements at a higher level than specifically TFC.”
Still, given what’s gone before, Lenarduzzi applauds MLSE for finally stepping up to the plate.
“They could have just simply maintained the status quo but they’ve obviously decided that they need someone in that position who has the MLS knowledge and the MLS leadership and in my opinion it’s never too late and so in order to reignite the passion, this is a great first step in that direction.”