TORONTO – There may be an inevitable feeling of sadness when Ryan Nelsen steps off the field after he plays his final game for Queens Park Rangers against Manchester City on Tuesday, but he won't have much time to bask in it. Two days later, he will step straight into his future, as head coach of Toronto FC.
“I suppose [I'll be sad], maybe,” Nelsen told MLSsoccer.com after training on Friday before he returned to England. “If you do anything for that number of years, any job, there’s a certain sadness when you leave because you’ve been doing it for so long.
“Luckily I’m coming into a job where I’m just really excited to be here, where there’s a fantastic challenge, a really big challenge and I have no time to worry about what I did in the past. I’m not really a guy who is too concerned with what happened in the past anyway. I’m more interested in what’s going to happen in the future, and my future, hopefully, is Toronto having some success.”
The former New Zealand national team captain was introduced as TFC’s head coach on Jan. 8, though it was not certain when he was going to be able to take over full-time because of his playing obligations with relegation-threatened QPR. But last week Nelsen confirmed that he would take over his new position full-time this Friday, Feb. 1, when the Reds open their preseason stint in Orlando.
Nelsen was also with the Reds last week when they began training under the bubble at their Downsview Park facility.
“Obviously, it’s just that time, you know,” the 35-year-old Nelsen said. “That’s life. I’m not getting any younger and I always felt to get to 35-and-a-half [and still playing well], I would have given my left arm to do that 15 years go. So I have no complaints. I leave on my terms and I feel extremely fortunate to even have had that opportunity.”
Nelsen was drafted out of Stanford University by D.C. United in the first round of the 2001 MLS SuperDraft and played four years there before joining Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League, where he played from 2005-2012. He joined Tottenham Hotspur during the second half of last season and then moved to QPR for the 2012-13 campaign, and is pleased to be going out at one of the game's highest levels.
“I wouldn’t say [I'm] at the top of my game, but I’m close,” Nelsen said. “I always wanted to go out on my terms. I didn’t want to be a player that kind of held on, you know. Even now, though, my mind can see it but my body can’t really back it up. When that was happening, I knew it was time.
“I’ve got two bone defects in my knees. Both have had operations, it’s wear and tear. I’ve got a hamstring issue where my hamstring is screwed on with screws and mesh at the moment. Just countless stuff over the years, which every player has. But it kind of wears on you and I’d like to one day be able to play with my kids instead of walking around with a cane.”
The wear and tear may stop with Nelsen's entry into coaching, but the challenge to him may be equally as big – getting Toronto into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history would be an impressive first step in building a coaching legacy matching that of his playing days.