“I’m the guy who tries to keep us on the right track.”
With those words, Kevin Payne, the newly-minted president and general manager of Toronto FC struck a new chord in understatement.
Despite what he says, it will not be the job of the 59-year old founding father of not just four MLS Cup wins & league titles with D.C. United but of Major League Soccer itself, to keep TFC on the right track.
He will first have to help the club find that right track.
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Coming off the worst season in franchise history, many of the team’s prime assets are either pending or behind the scenes.
TFC will have the first choice in the MLS SuperDraft. The club’s training facility is among the league’s best. The team has a bright young star in Luis Silva, an accomplished figure in coach Paul Mariner, a fan base aching for results, a front office committed to underwriting success and a handful of prime time players in defenders Darren O'Dea and Richard Eckersley, captain Torsten Frings and finishers Eric Hassli and Danny Koevermans.
Payne will have the final word in all elements of the organization, from marketing to personnel decisions.
“This is the only job in Major League Soccer for which I would have left D.C. United,” Payne said. “I think the opportunity here is absolutely phenomenal.”
Payne said he was keeping Mariner as his coach. All trade and personnel discussions, he said, will go through director of team and player operations Earl Cochrane.
“Earl is going to be the primary point person for anything of that sort coming into or out of Toronto FC,” he said.
Rebuilding an organization that has experienced little on-field success is different, said Payne, than starting from scratch.
“There are tremendous resources available here. There is a deep commitment to be successful on the field. It is going to be different and I certainly don’t intend to be so disrespectful as to suggest everything was a mistake and we are going to throw it all out.”
Payne said he wanted to import the broad strokes he developed in Washington.
“The philosophy was we want to play dominant soccer. We wanted to dictate how the game was going to be played and where it was going to be played. The style was based on possession, highly technical players, kind of a Latin style if you will.”
In making the announcement, MLSE president and chief operating officer Tom Anselmi said the search for the team’s first president was about finding “leadership with experience, a track-record of success, particularly MLS experience in building the right club. We found the right guy.”
Mariner said he was elated as well.
“I’ve known Kevin for the best part of 10 years,” Mariner said. “To say I’m excited about the prospect of working for him is an understatement. I think he can help everybody.”