Quick, name five current MLS general managers. Follow RUDI SCHULLER on Twitter
Even the most hardcore of Major League Soccer observers would be hard-pressed to come up with a correct answer without the aid of Wikipedia. That's because most GMs in the league are firmly entrenched in the background, doing the 'dirty work' while the head coach represents the public face of a club's technical staff.
There are a few exceptions, of course, but this is largely the formula that MLS teams have used.
Yet in Toronto, home of the most dysfunctional franchise to ever grace the league, it's never been tough to pinpoint the general manager of the hometown team.
From Mo Johnston to Aron Winter to Kevin Payne, the role of Toronto FC general manager has always been filled by a larger-than-life figure charged with building the team while simultaneously also being the go-to guy for sound bytes and column inches about the embattled club.
It was always easy to know who the finger should be pointed at when the going inevitably got tough at TFC, and the blame always rested on the GM's shoulders.
Until now, that is.
With the hiring of rookie team executive Tim Bezbatchenko as the fourth GM in club history, TFC has done something completely new: it's shifted focus away from the GM and placed all eyeballs -- and indeed, all the pressure -- squarely on the coach.
Still a neophyte himself, head coach Ryan Nelsen has assumed the mantle as the top man on the pyramid when it comes to player personnel decisions. While the general manager has traditionally held this role at TFC (and in other North American sports), the Reds have finally joined the league they play in by going to the more traditional "manager" route where the man roving the sidelines is also the one with the biggest say over his squad of players.
It's a big responsibility for a coach who only has seven months of experience under his belt, but it's not unprecedented.
In Utah, the untested tandem of Garth Lagerwey and Jason Kreis took over a woeful Real Salt Lake side in 2007 and, in short order, built a powerhouse. Kreis, like Nelsen, moved directly from a good playing career into the head coaching job, while Lagerwey (like Bezbatchenko will purportedly do) supported his coach with his knowledge of contract law, numbers, and the byzantine MLS rule structure.
It worked at RSL, and the thinking is that it can also work at TFC.
But in order to do so, Nelsen will have to succeed where Kreis has before him. The Kiwi coach will have to quickly shake his inexperience and show a keen eye for talent, both obvious and otherwise.
Where Kreis succeeded was his ability to craft a team-first philosophy out of the many spare parts that populate MLS under the top tier of high-priced players. That is, he got the most out of the so-called "plumbers" that make up the majority of his team, and he used a sound drafting and trade strategy to continuously upgrade his side as players inevitably got older or fell out of form.
Nelsen will have to do the same in Toronto. While talk of big name designated players will dominate the narrative, its what Nelsen can get out of his unfancied domestic players that will determine both the fate of TFC and his fate as its coach.
Whether he can do so with such a limited base of experience remains to be seen. Kreis showed it can be done in MLS, but now the onus is on Nelsen to demonstrate that the faith placed in him by his bosses has not been misplaced.
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