Toronto FC named Queens Park Rangers’ defender and New Zealand international Ryan Nelsen as the club’s new Head Coach on Tuesday. The hiring reunites Nelsen with Kevin Payne, Toronto FC’s President and General Manager. He previously played for Payne at D.C. United for four seasons, captaining the team to its fourth championship in 2004. Nelsen, 35, becomes the club’s eighth and youngest head coach in team history.

Fran O’Leary also joins Toronto FC as the team’s Assistant Coach and Director of Player Recruitment. O’Leary spent the last seven years at Bowdoin College’s Men’s Soccer program where he served as head coach.

Nelsen, a native of Christchurch, brings a wealth of soccer experience to his new role at Toronto FC from Major League Soccer, the English Premier League and New Zealand’s National team with more than 400 professional appearances. Nelsen began his football career with Christchurch United in New Zealand, making 96 team appearances and posting 12 goals between 1995 and 1998.

In 1998, he moved to the United States on a university scholarship, playing for North Carolina’s Greensboro College in the NCAA and later transferring to Stanford University for this final two years of college soccer. At Stanford, Nelsen was named MVP as a junior player and an All-American as a senior player. He graduated with a degree in Political Science from Stanford University.

Drafted fourth overall in the 2001 MLS SuperDraft by D.C. United, Nelsen spent four years with the club where he played a key role in bringing the team its fourth championship. During his tenure at D.C. United, he made 81 appearances, posting seven goals and five assists. He served as Team Captain from 2003 to 2005 and was twice named as MLS’s Best XI in 2003 and 2004.    

In 2005, Nelsen moved to the English Premier League, playing for Blackburn Rovers from 2005 to 2012, posting 195 appearances in all competitions, scoring eight goals. He was named Captain less than a month after his arrival with the team. In 2012, he signed with Tottenham Hotspur as a free agent on a six-month contract. He made nine appearances, five League and four FA Cup, scoring one goal in all competitions for the Spurs.

In June 2012, Nelsen signed with Queens Park Rangers. To date, he has made 21 appearances for the club. He is under contract with QPR until June 30, 2013. However he remains in discussion with QPR to determine when he will officially join Toronto FC.

“From the day Ryan arrived in D.C. as a 23 year old player, I always knew he would be a head coach someday,” said Payne. “I believe his leadership qualities, intelligence, preparation and character will contribute to his success as a coach. I couldn’t ask for a better person to lead our club.”

Since 1999, Nelsen has more than 40 caps for New Zealand’s All Whites National Team.  He also captained the All Whites at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and most recently, at the 2012 London Olympics.

In 2011, Nelson was named an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to football. He also co-authored a book with fellow New Zealander Tony Smith called Ryan Nelsen’s Road to the World Cup.

A native of Dublin, Ireland, Fran O’Leary, one of the most distinguished coaches in collegiate soccer, possesses an illustrious coaching resume and strong soccer acumen. At Bowdoin, he posted an impressive 62-27-9 record with two NCAA Tournament berths in his first six campaigns. In 2010, he was named NSCAA Regional Coach of the Year.

He previously held coaching positions at Elmira College, Kenyon College, Dartmouth and George Mason. O’Leary is a graduate of Thomas Edison State College and began his coaching career as an Assistant at Boston College. In addition to his coaching responsibilities, O’Leary will oversee player scouting and recruitment for Toronto FC.   

Payne said, “Fran has a wealth of experience as a coach in the U.S. College System which will be of great help as we work to reinvent Toronto FC and define a new way of preparing for and playing matches. He and Ryan share a great trust and a common sense of the game. With Jim, Stewart and Jason we have a top notch coaching staff.”

Toronto FC will kick off its 2013 Major League Soccer preseason in late-January. The 2013 MLS SuperDraft takes place Thursday, January 17 in Indianapolis.