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New Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen (left) listens as club president and general manager Kevin Payne speaks to the media in Toronto on Tuesday January 8, 2013. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
New Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen (left) listens as club president and general manager Kevin Payne speaks to the media in Toronto on Tuesday January 8, 2013. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

MLS First Kick

Once more, Toronto FC rebuilds Add to ...

After a franchise-worst 23-point effort last season, Toronto FC was at an all-time low.

With no laurels to rest on – even the historically fervent home support dipped by almost 2,000 fans to slightly more than 18,000 a game – club owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. did what it had to for what seems like the umpteenth time: plot a new course.

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Unfortunately for long-suffering fans, only time will tell if it’s the right one.

New management

After six seasons of futility, MLSE finally brought itself in line with the majority of Major League Soccer franchises and appointed a de facto president. Kevin Payne arrived from D.C. United last November, bringing with him a sparkling résumé resplendent with four MLS Cup titles and promise of a new dawn on the Toronto horizon.

He wasted no time in bringing in his own man, firing incumbent head coach Paul Mariner just days into the new year, and reaching into his past to appoint the successor. New Zealander Ryan Nelsen also boasts a sparkling soccer résumé, highlighted by captaining D.C. to its last championship in 2004.

Unfortunately, that résumé is short of any actual coaching experience. So, having stepped off the playing fields of the English Premier League and ending his playing career with Queens Park Rangers just a month ago, Nelsen will be learning his new craft on the fly.

New roster

It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that TFC’s roster was woefully short of quality in 2012 (five league wins out of 34 matches speaks volumes on that matter). A large part of that was long-term injuries to key players, and while a torn knee ligament will continue to keep Dutch striker Danny Koevermans on the shelf until mid-season, others have moved on.

At 36, captain Torsten Frings decided enough was enough and the former German international hung up his boots just days before the start of the 2013 season, while leading scorer Ryan Johnson and fellow striker Eric Hassli have both found pastures new on other MLS fields.

Payne and Nelsen have cast their net wide to address those departures. Former Real Madrid midfielder Julio Cesar was brought in after two seasons with Sporting Kansas City. Nelsen returned to Britain to sign former Welsh international striker Robert Earnshaw and secure a loan deal for English winger Hogan Ephraim, 24.

Closer to home, TFC took Oakville, Ont., native Kyle Bekker with the third-overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft, while the addition of American centre back Danny Califf via the re-entry draft should help Toronto shore up a backline that conceded a league-worst 62 goals.

New hope?

When it comes to the Toronto FC it seems, a change is as good as a rest. Nothing has worked thus far – the franchise began play in 2007, posting six consecutive seasons without reaching the MLS playoffs – and while maintaining the approach of averaging more than one head coach per season (that’s eight now heading into the team’s seventh season) may not be a recipe for winning in the immediate future, Payne and Nelsen are at least singing from the same song sheet, which hasn’t always been the case in years past.

IN

D Gale Agbossoumonde

M Kyle Bekker

GK Joe Bendik

F Ashton Bennett

F Justin Braun

D Danny Califf

M Julio Cesar

F Robert Earnshaw

F Taylor Morgan

M Jonathan Osorio

F Emery Welshman

OUT

F Quincy Amarikwa

M Eric Avila

D Adrian Cann

M Oscar Cordon

M Torsten Frings

D Ty Harden

F Eric Hassli

F Ryan Johnson

GK Milos Kocic

F Nicholas Lindsay

F Keith Makubuya

M Aaron Maund

F Joao Plata

D Dicoy Williams

Follow on Twitter: @paulattfield

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