Meet Tim Bezbatchenko.
He is not Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics, he is not Damien Comolli of Liverpool FC, and he is certainly not Kevin Payne.
Tim Bezbatchenko is a former soccer player who spent two seasons playing for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in USL Pro. He is also a lawyer who completed his law degree at the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 2008. Most recently he was the Senior Director of Player Relations and Competition with Major League Soccer and now he is the new General Manager of Toronto FC.
He is an unknown commodity for people who have not dealt with him in his role in MLS HQ which will raise a lot of question marks about his appointment to such an important position within the TFC organization. He has almost nothing in common with the club's last general manager, Kevin Payne, as he comes from a completely different era in MLS.
When Toronto hired Kevin Payne they brought in a man who had a record of success dating back to the birth of MLS. To fans of the league he was a household name who had done it all during his time with DC United. The problem was that in recent years the league seems to have moved past the likes of Kevin Payne and in a new direction where the best way to win is to find ways to put every dollar of you roster budget to good use. It is hard to get by in the league with risky signings and gambles on unproven players.
So the old-school Payne was shown the door for having a difference in philosophy with Tim Leiweke and in comes the very new-school Bezbatchenko. At just 31-years-old he is very young for a GM but he has already amassed a fair bit of experience in the league offices which will be vital to any success that he hopes to have at Toronto FC.
During Bezbatchenko's introductory press conference on Friday morning it became clear that he was brought in to help correct one of the biggest problems that Toronto FC have had since joining the league. His primary role will be to improve the way that the team functions within the limits of the league's salary cap and to avoid the sort of bad contracts that have handcuffed the club so often in the past. Along with that he will hopefully bring improved relationships with other GM's throughout the league which is something the club has often lacked which has made trading within MLS difficult.
Bezbatchenko comes into the role already familiar with the ins and outs of contracts in MLS since that was a big part of his previous role. He also comes in with strong connections to the other GM's in the league having worked with them on a regular basis to help ensure they were meeting the requirements of the salary cap.
His resume may be short but it is not without reason for optimism. Hiring more analytical minds to run your club is still a fairly new trend in sports but it is something that is growing. In a world where resources are limited and you are competing with a number of teams for the same potential players, the key to success becomes getting the best value for the money you are spending. Bezbatchenko should be able to improve Toronto FC in that regard.
Where the question marks will rightly come is on the talent evaluation side of things. The club will now be run by a rookie GM and a second year Head coach and that is a risky move to make as neither has a proven track record in their current role. Neither has experience building a competitive roster or evaluating talent to sign which is why putting a proper scouting network in place now becomes key for the future of the club.
If Bezbatchenko can run the numbers to help narrow down targets that are worth going after that is a good start but as he admitted in the press conference there is another step to the process and that is getting a good look at the player and actually evaluating them on the field. That is not the job of the GM but of scouts and to some extent coaches so the most important hiring that TFC now has to make is filling the role left vacant by Pat Onstad as the club's head scout. Get that hiring wrong and all the number crunching in the world will not be enough to turn this team around.
The announcement of Bezbatchenko's hiring came with a lot of the same familiar talk from Tim Leiweke about how it was time to stop offering spin and get the job done. There was more talk of not asking fans to pay any money until January, chasing fancy new DPs, and checking off boxes. So many boxes.
It all sounded good when it was being said despite the general lack of enthusiasm on display from the trio at the head table. It almost seemed pointless to have Ryan Nelsen present as he said about two sentences of no substance and had to bolt off to training the moment the formal press conference concluded. It did seem odd that he had so little to say about the man with whom his fate will now be very much intertwined as together they will do the majority of the work on building TFC's roster moving forward.
So there are no doubt question marks about this hire but there are some reasons to be optimistic about the future if you are willing to buy into the fact that the club needed an analytical mind who understands the inner workings of MLS more than they needed someone who knows how to build a roster.
The big concern with the whole thing is that the real winner in all of this seems to be Nelsen who seems set to have even more control over roster decisions than he did under Payne. It seems that Leiweke has complete faith in his coach but do the fans feel the same way?
So the new ere at Toronto FC begins the same as so many before it, with a lack of experience and question marks. How could it possibly go wrong?