Let's get to it, first up, it's Armen Bedakian looking on the bright side.
Number One! The Hiring of Ryan Nelsen
It may seem like ancient history at this point, but there was a time when Ryan Nelsen was supposed to miss the first few months of the season. Payne, having fired Paul Mariner, addressed the head coaching position vaguely, saying that Nelsen would indeed be the head coach but putting no date to the acquisition. Instead, assistant coach Fran O’Leary was meant to take charge until Nelsen could be released from Queens Park Rangers amicably.
Or so we thought. The truth of the matter was that Nelsen had always planned to be at BMO Field on opening day, and to oversee the team from game one. Payne cloaked the news so as to ensure that the deal went through without a hitch on Toronto’s end, handling the media strategically to ensure QPR’s management felt that they were still in control. It was an interesting move by Payne, to ensure that Nelsen would be Toronto FC’s head coach sooner rather than later.
Number Two! The Draft Game
Toronto FC walked into the MLS SuperDraft with two very high picks, and rather than do what most general managers in the league would do, Payne played the draft a little bit differently. He drafted Kyle Bekker third overall, traded the first overall pick down to four, then to 10, finally, to 16, picking up allocation money along the way. With pick 16, Payne and company picked up Emery Welshman, completing a Canadian duo draft while ensuring that plenty of allocation money came their way, too.
Sure, Toronto FC missed out on players like Andrew Farrell or Kekuta Manneh, and while Bekker and Welshman have yet to really feature for Toronto FC, Payne still walked away from this year’s draft relatively successful. Two long-term Canadian prospects and a boatload of cash that could help with regular season signings was always going to benefit Toronto FC more than a few high draft picks. Besides, Sam Cronin and Luis Silva didn’t stick around very long, so maybe it was for the best.
Numero Three! Pursuit of Matias Laba
Kevin Payne’s most memorable signing will be Argentine midfielder Matias Laba, who signed with Toronto FC from Argentinos Junior after a long period of speculation. Laba signed for Toronto FC as a young Designated Player, and in his 16 games in the 2013 season, he showed that he is not only an adept defensive midfielder but also an opportune goalscorer, notching the game-winning goal against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium.
Laba broke his toe and will miss the rest of the regular season, but in the half a season he did play, Laba made himself a key contributor to Toronto FC’s starting line up. He’s young too, and can be a vital figure for the club for many years to come. This, perhaps, will be Payne’s legacy signing.
Number Four! The Sale of Darren O’Dea
Payne’s main goal coming in to Toronto FC was to first and foremost fix the salary cap situation at the club. Toronto FC’s previous regime signed many young or inexperienced players to huge contracts, the biggest of which went to Darren O’Dea. The Irish centreback and club captain was certainly worth the though $450,000 he was being paid, but for a non-DP player in Major League Soccer, that kind of figure simply cannot be accommodated.
So, Payne shipped O’Dea off to Ukrainian outfit Metalurh Donetsk, relieving Toronto FC’s salary cap by nearly half a million dollars. In his stead came the likes of Steven Caldwell and Maxi Urruti, and also set Toronto FC up with plenty of cap space for next season. It was this sale that symbolized his desired direction for the club, a team comprised of capable players at an affordable, reasonable salary. Though O’Dea was a fan favourite, he was also expensive, something Payne identified and fixed with little hesitation.
Finally, Number Five! The Discovery of Jonathan Osorio
Matias Laba and Maxi Urruti will go down as Payne’s biggest signings, but it’s Osorio’s acquisition that may just be the club fan’s favourite. Osorio came to Toronto FC without making much noise, first appearing in preseason camp, scoring a few goals, before "graduating" from the TFC Academy system. He quickly made his name heard, however, and is currently a starter with Toronto FC.
How much of Osorio’s signing can be attributed to Payne can be debated, but one thing is clear – Toronto FC took a chance on this young Canadian midfielder and it paid off almost right away. Perhaps it was an easy decision to make, based on Osorio’s showing in preseason, or maybe it was a difficult decision. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that Payne embraced the concept that young Canadian talent matters. He didn’t sell of Morgan and Henry, he drafted Bekker and Welshman, and in Osorio, Payne found a Canadian footballer in which to build a team with.
Other general managers may not have been so keen on this very fact, and while Payne will be remembered for his "get used to it" quote, his affinity for inukshuks and his promises for big, big players, it is these five moments that will define his work with Toronto FC.
* * * * * * *
And here's Duncan Fletcher bringing the opposite view, the 5 worst moments.
Number One! The hiring of Ryan Nelsen
This was the first move where Kevin Payne really put his neck out there. The timing issue was a big alarm bell that didn't end up being a huge factor (though how involved in the draft was Nelsen, still with QPR at the time?) but hiring a rookie coach, with no coaching badges of any kind as well no less, was a big gamble. He just re-upped on that when it came to assistants, Fran O'Leary hadn't coached at a particularly high level before, and Duncan Oughton was barely more experienced than Nelsen. Add in Jim Brennan and Jason Bent and there's really very little experience there to help Nelsen navigate his first season as a coach.
The jury's still out on whether Nelsen has been or might become a success. Results haven't been great but the defence is definitely improved which is a good first step, and that whole late goals thing that defined the first half of the season has gone away, but there remains very little creativity going forward. Can he take the next step and work with a (presumably) improved team of the future and coach a more expansive style.
What's no longer uncertain is that Ryan knows how to play politics. When hired there was a lot of talk about having the same philosophy as Payne and all the respect they had for each other. After the arrival of Tim Lieweke, Nelsen seems to have figured out where he needs to stand, ie not with his old buddy Kevin any more. It will be interesting to see if there is any behind the scenes drama that comes out of all this, a la Mariner and Winter. I'd be surprised if there was a full on 'Et Tu Ryan' backstabbing involved, but it doesn't seem like Nelsen went out of his way to save the neck that Payne stuck out for him.
Number Two! The draft game
Andrew Farrell, Carlos Alvarez, Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers. All players that are playing regularly and having a big impact for their clubs, all players that could have been selected by Toronto, with that 1st and 3rd pick they had heading into the draft. There's no guarantees of course with any young player, and would any of them have been able to thrive to the same extent amid TFC's poor team? Who knows. Just how much allocation money did TFC get for the trading that they did? Without knowing that exactly it's difficult to properly evaluate what was done, certainly many experts at the time seemed very impressed with Payne's work.
As the season has gone on though, with Kyle Bekker seemingly drifting further and further away from Ryan Nelsen's thoughts, and Emery Welshman looking like he was never even in them to start with, it looks more and more like a bust. Though becoming less important, the draft, and especially the high picks in it can have a big part in building a team. Going into the season TFC had Luis Silva from 2012 and two theoretical good future players, that's the sort of thing that can go a long way to forming the core of a team. Now, well there's an unknown amount of allocation money and hopefully Bekker can improve his game and become an impact player, but that seems a long way away. As for Silva, well that brings us nicely to...
Number Three! The Luis Silva sale
Of course the amount of allocation money is unknown so again difficult to fully judge the deal, and yes Luis Silva hadn't been having a great year up to that point for TFC. But for a team that was purportedly trying to build a younger team, why get rid of a player who could well have been part of that, who looked very good the previous season, and who could well bounce back and do well in the current system, or be ideal for how the team wants to play in the future, it's not like anything in TFC is ever set in stone.
Of course the justification was that he'd be supplanted by the new players TFC would be bringing in in the transfer window, which didn't really end up happening did it? Not having those new guys nailed down and letting Silva get away anyway is a huge blunder.
Number Four! The revolving door just keeps on spinning.
No GM is ever going to have a perfect record with trades, and there are definitely some good moves both in and out that Payne pulled off, as noted above by Armen. But there's been plenty of curious decisions made on top of the Silva one as players have come and gone (plenty fall into both categories) at the speed all TFC fans have become used to. The release of the cheap and serviceable Logan Emory was as confusing as Terry Dunfield's release was heartbreaking for some. In both cases, as soon as they were fit enough to come off the injury list they were unceremoniously dumped. Julio Cesar, Hogan Ephraim, John Bostock have all been brought in and then shipped out, as was perhaps the most embarrassing departure of them all, Danny Califf.
Selected with the first pick in the re-entry draft, and hyped as the strong experienced player the defence would be built around, within a month of the season starting he was ill, injured, dealing with personal issues, who knows really. It didn't work out, fair enough, but hey reports suggest Philadelphia would have been happy to see him return in what could have been an easily spun good news story out of an awkward situation. Instead, Stefan Frei and Ashtone Morgan were reportedly lumped into the deal and so Philly pulled out, leaving a Dichio-esque 'retirement' with Califf officially taking up a role as a scout in order to still get the money owed him and also getting that money off the salary cap. A change of culture around the club? Not so much.
Number Five! Get used To It & more
Let's face it, if TFC were a good team, successful with plenty of goodwill banked with their fans, no-one would really care about the crazy old guy at the top running his mouth. But that's not TFC's situation of course. He inherited a surly, surly fanbase, not his fault, but surely a reality he should have recognised and adapted to. Instead, he was the model of tone deaf arrogance. Inukshuk's was guaranteed to get nothing but cynical snark. Tal Ben Haim - one of the best defenders in the EPL over the last decade? Sure, Kevin, sure. The hype of the summer transfer window certainly got people interested in the short term, only to lead to eventual scorn when nothing much really happened. Without the big talk, getting Urruti, Rey, Elmer and Thomas could have been seen as not a bad bit of work, any disappointment was all his own doing.
Not content with causing mass eye rolling among TFC supporters, he got all confrontational with them as well, those who didn't like the Roma friendly were dismissed as a mere 'Vocal Minority' at the special announcement called to promote the game, then of course told to Get Used To It, live on tv during the game. The message there is that he and thus the club in no way see you as important. In the right circumstances, that sort of attitude can be shrugged off or laughed at. Given what TFC's supporters (whether in Supporters Groups or not) have put up with over the years, that was just plain dumb.
Did he have enough time to be fairly judged? Hell no. Did he do some good things for TFC? Absolutely, but there were plenty of missteps to go along with the good he did.