The Tim Bezbatchenko era at Toronto FC is officially over. The club announced the hiring of Ali Curtis at a press conference this morning, making him the team’s fifth GM as Bez leaves to reportedly take over as president of Columbus Crew SC.
It also spells the beginning of the end for the big three era. For the past three years, Toronto FC has been defined by power trios, be it the management team of Bezbatchenko, Bill Manning and Greg Vanney or the on-field triumvirate of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley.
Curtis’ hiring breaks up the former. His long-term job with the club will be formulating a plan for the club once they move on from the three pillars of their roster. In that sense, he could well be a shrewd hire from Toronto FC.
The first thing anyone will tell you when you ask about Curtis is that he is both very knowledgeable and a meticulous planner. Like Bez, he spent time at the league office where he worked and learned directly about a lot of the complicated roster mechanisms in place.
In 2014, Curtis was hired as the sporting director of the New York Red Bulls. In the 40-year-old’s two full seasons in charge, the club won the Eastern Conference both times and lifted the 2015 Supporters’ Shield.
He was also praised for his wholistic approach to the organization. A staple of his time with New York was the 300-page plan he kept in a binder that detailed his vision for the organization.
“It’s important to really have a good grasp of what’s going on at the youth level, at the academy level,” said Curtis in today’s press conference.
Curtis was reportedly very important in streamlining a Red Bulls academy that is now considered perhaps the best in Major League Soccer. That could be a major benefit for a Toronto FC organization that has struggled to transition players from academy to first team.
It also could be key to the club post Giovinco, Altidore and Bradley. For the past few years Toronto has adopted a win-now approach — splashing the cash on big-name signings — over promoting from within.
Evidently, it has worked. But long-term it wasn’t the most economically viable option, something Bezbatchenko recognized as well. Curtis is well-versed in building a highly successful roster at a cheaper price.
He also has a reputation for being willing to make controversial moves for the betterment of the team if a player, regardless of his status, doesn’t fit into the system. That mentality could be a crucial over the next few seasons as Toronto potentially moves on from some very big names in club history.
The plan doesn’t change much for this season, however. The signing of Laurent Ciman indicates that Toronto intend on taking full advantage of the last years of their three DP’s contracts to win now. Vanney said as much in today’s press conference.
Nor is the club done adding players, as was the concern for some fans when it was announced there would be a GM change. After all, everyone below Bezbatchenko is still in place, the analytics and scouting departments that were crucial in the rosters he built.
“We’re set for 2019, with the exception of a few additions we will be making,” said Bill Manning at today’s presser, “[Curtis] will be part of that decision making process.”
He said the hiring of Curtis was swift and decisive. The club found out on Boxing Day that Bezbatchenko would be leaving to pursue other opportunities and moved quickly to find a replacement and make the transition as seamless as possible.
Curtis was quickly identified as the ideal candidate for the job and met with both Manning and Vanney over the holidays to confirm this fact. Manning and Curtis have a long relationship, dating back to when Toronto FC’s president drafted him second overall in the 2001 MLS SuperDraft.
Interestingly, Vanney was very influential in the hiring of his boss, showing the kind of respect he has earned within the organization. Curtis was the lone candidate interviewed.
“We knew who we wanted” said Manning.
Curtis certainly has quite a test ahead of himself. He’s only been around the organization for one day now. Bezbatchenko will stick around for a few days to make sure that the hand off is easier before heading to his new gig.
But after that, on short notice, Curtis is fully in charge of a team with a very unsettled fanbase that has high expectations. Results will be expected immediately, both domestically and continentally.
With that being said, however, no manager in Toronto FC history has come into a more stable work environment. Curtis has a boss, and a staff around him, that has been with the club for years, knows the ins and outs of the league and has a proven track record.
Bezbatchenko remains the only man who has proven himself capable of managing that staff to results. In that sense, him moving on is a big loss for the organization. It was always a possibility for an ambitious and intelligent individual that the club rightly did not hold back.
However, in Ali Curtis, the organization may well have found the ideal candidate to lead the club into its next chapter.
He is a man with a lot of Bezbatchenko-like qualities, but also a lot of the attributes necessary to identify and execute the future of the club. Get ready, Toronto FC fans, the Ali Curtis era has officially begun.