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Toronto assistant coach Fran O'Leary has had a whirlwind month since becoming Ryan Nelsen's right-hand man at Toronto FC a month ago. (Neil Davidson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Toronto assistant coach Fran O'Leary has had a whirlwind month since becoming Ryan Nelsen's right-hand man at Toronto FC a month ago. (Neil Davidson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Fran O’Leary brings wealth of experience to role as Toronto FC assistant Add to ...

The 33-year-old Rimando is still playing in MLS, for Real Salt Lake.

O’Leary and Nelsen worked together for four years. Nelsen would train in the morning with his MLS team, then help the college players in the afternoon.

Nelsen and O’Leary have stayed close since their George Mason days. O’Leary ended up doing some scouting for Blackburn Rovers while Nelsen was there and has also commuted to Britain regularly for coaching courses.

They also talked on the phone once or twice a week, dissecting training sessions.

“From there, we’re pretty confident we see the game the same way,” O’Leary said.

For Nelsen and O’Leary, opportunities in today’s game often come out of transition. So they look to build a sound defensive foundation — and then use it as a springboard to attack.

“We don’t just talk about defending, we more talk about defending to attack,” said O’Leary.

On the ball, Toronto will take the cue from its opposition. If they are sitting up at the halfway line, one pass might expose them. If they are sitting deep, you have to be more patient and use passing to break them down.

“It’s not a case of ‘Do we play long (balls), do we play short,’ it’s a case of how do we get behind the team,” O’Leary summed up.

“The term we like to use to our players is ‘Trust your brain.’ See what’s on. Have a strong defensive foundation but in possession, trust your brain.”

When it comes to formation, O’Leary does not seem bothered. Formations change on attack and in defence, he argues. Play a good team and it will pull you into a different shape.

“It’s too early to say what we’ll do. But I don’t think we’re going to get too caught up on formations.”

Both Nelsen and O’Leary are looking forward rather than back at TFC. O’Leary says that won’t change, even in the good times.

“I had a wise old coach who would always call me after games. He’d leave a voice mail and he would say ‘Don’t know how you did today but you either won, you lost or you drew. Either way it’s history now, move on.’ And that’s the way I’ve always been.”

The result can’t be changed, after all. So for O’Leary, you address it and then move on.

O’Leary has gone as high as you can in terms of coaching courses. He has just finished the two-year UEFA Pro Licence course, needing only to make a final presentation next month.

He took the course under the auspices of the Scottish Football Association in a 21-person class that included David Weir, David Unsworth, Alan Stubbs, Scot Gemmill, Gary Locke and Canadian under-20 coach Nick Dasovic. Others from North America were Vancouver Whitecaps assistant coach Paul Ritchie, and Dartmouth coach Jeff Cook.

The course has included time with managers Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United and Andre Villas-Boas of Tottenham. Everton’s David Moyes spent two days showing the class how he operates.

The course has taken them all across Europe in search of soccer expertise.

“You pick up a lot of valuable information as you go that I think will stand us in good stead here,” O’Leary said.

O’Leary says this latest course was more about handling situations than Xs and Os.

He recalls former England manager Howard Wilkinson telling them that being a soccer coach is not a job for those who don’t like dealing with problems.

“You’ll have 10 problems a day,” O’Leary recalled Wilkinson saying. “The day you walk in and there’s no problems means there is a crisis and they’re keeping the problems away from you, so worry.”

The UEFA Pro License is needed to manage in many top leagues in Europe but not in MLS. Nelsen has not taken coaching courses, saying he was occupied with his playing career.

Away from the field, O’Leary is a sports and music buff who looks forward to taking in Toronto’s vibrant concert scene. He counts Queen — twice in Dublin — as his all-time favourite show.

“Best concert by a mile,” he said with a smile.

He still rues missing a David Bowie show at George Mason’s basketball arena. The former Ziggy Stardust had flu that night.

O’Leary will miss Maine, which will remain his American home. The coastal town of Brunswick and its people, not to mention the lobster, will always have a place in his heart.

“I always said and I meant it, that I’d never leave for another college job. I just felt that that (Bowdoin) would be the place I’d stay. We were very very happy. But this is a fantastic opportunity,” he said.

“I’m going in with a guy I believe will turn this around.”

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