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Blair: MLSE housecleaning continues as Payne pays price for TFC failures

Just as it made sense a person who described himself as someone who "comes from basketball" would not be taken in by Bryan Colangelo's bespoke smoke-and-mirrors act, so, too, is there logic to the notion that merely cutting down on Toronto FC's goals against wouldn't be enough for Tim Leiweke, the man who brought David Beckham to Major League Soccer.

The president and chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. is expected to reveal further details Thursday about his decision to fire TFC president/general manager Kevin Payne – Payne confirmed the firing Wednesday – and reveal further details of a shake-up at the Air Canada Centre that continues a summer-long house-cleaning.

Several mid-level executives were let go and others received new areas of responsibility and, in addition to removing Colangelo from his post as GM of the Toronto Raptors, Leiweke also gave Toronto Maple Leafs GM David Nonis a five-year contract extension.

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In the end, it appears an inability to spend $25-million played a significant role in Payne losing his job.

That was the figure the MLSE board had approved for the purchase of "designated players," and Payne was unable to execute a significant transaction – even though The Globe and Mail reported as far back as July 7 that TFC had an agreement with Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan.

Yet, despite several signs a deal was done, reports soon surfaced Forlan wanted to play for another MLS team or he was merely using TFC as leverage in negotiations to remain in South America.

As the days turned into weeks and the promised sizzle of the kind of name, pedigreed player the franchise so desperately needs failed to materialize, TFC slipped into a kind of bizarre stasis.

The crowning touch to another lost summer might have occurred last month, when Clint Dempsey – an accomplished U.S. international who shares the same agent as TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen – signed with the Seattle Sounders.

Payne told the club didn't pursue the former Tottenham player for what amounted to altruistic reasons. It made more sense from a marketing perspective, Payne said, for Dempsey to be with a U.S. team, and Grant Wahl, the respected soccer reporter for Sports Illustrated, indicated the league's head office had in fact steered Dempsey toward Seattle.

But that was small comfort to TFC fans, whose team missed the playoffs the first six seasons of its existence and is on pace to go 0-for-7.

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Last Thursday, Leiweke and Nelsen met with members of the Red Patch Boys supporters' group and Leiweke told the gathering Nelsen was "100 per cent" going to return as head coach in 2014.

Payne was absent from that session, which raised eyebrows since he had worked with Leiweke before (at Anschutz Entertainment Group, where Leiweke helped sign English soccer star Beckham to play for the AEG-owned Los Angeles Galaxy) and because there were some in the local soccer community who felt Nelsen's publicly-cautious stance on pursuing a designated player didn't seem to jibe with Leiweke's philosophy.

And so Payne, who joined TFC in November of 2012, with a strong recommendation from the MLS office and an impressive résumé after overseeing D.C. United's ascension into a position of prominence (four MLS Cups and a CONCACAF Champions League title), is the latest casualty of the mess that is TFC. (He will, however, stay with MLSE in the short-term in an advisory role.)

In an interview with The Globe and Mail before his first regular-season game in charge of the club, Nelsen confided that, despite his due diligence and the background he was given by Payne, the more he rummaged around and poked and prodded things, the greater his sense of sadness at the waste of resources in previous seasons.

It was a classic case of too much money and little direction, he said; of money being spent foolishly.

Odd, then, that the latest TFC move results in part from money that wasn't spent at all. Odd, but comforting.

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