Challenges ahead for Nelsen at Toronto

DANNY HAY
Last updated 10:36 24/02/2013
Ryan Nelsen
Getty Images
LEARNING THE ROPES: Ryan Nelsen looks on as his side warms up.

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OPINION: I'm guessing a few sleepless nights are in store over the coming week for the man known as this country's most influential player ever.

North America's Major League Soccer season kicks off next weekend, which spells the start of Ryan Nelsen's coaching career. There has been copious amounts written about the pressure he will be under in Toronto to turn around an ailing franchise, as well as questions aplenty around whether Nelsen, an untried coach, has what it takes to move instantaneously from the playing ranks to man in sole charge.

Time will obviously give us the answers to those questions, but as most New Zealanders will genuinely want to see Nelsen succeed, I thought it pertinent to make some sort of assessment now. To do so, we need to know more about the MLS, and specifically Toronto FC.

I would describe the MLS as a rich-man's A-League. The clubs, players and fan-base are a little better in every area, but still some way off the quality competitions of Europe's elite. As a league it has grown and evolved significantly over the past years as the US playing base has improved.

Foreign imports, the likes of David Beckham and Thierry Henry, have also helped improve its quality and worldwide recognition as a legitimate professional league.

Like the A-League in Australia, the MLS operates under a salary cap, which at a glance will be problematic for Nelsen in his first season. A look through his playing roster reveals a couple of players of note that he has inherited, who will undoubtedly take up a fair chunk of that cap. The biggest name is Torsten Frings.

The German played for his country on 79 occasions, which is no mean feat, as well as having 14 seasons in the Bundesliga for giants such as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. But, and it's a big but, he will turn 37 this year.

Similar to Frings is another ex-international, Danny Koevermans. The 34-year-old Dutchman is also bound to be swallowing a significant portion of the salary cap, but judging by his profile photo on the club's website, it doesn't appear to be the only thing that's he's rapidly consuming.

The one thing that really stands out about the MLS, and the style of play teams predominantly adopt, is that it's based on athleticism. So looking from afar, this appears to be Nelsen's greatest challenge. How does he deal with two older, less athletic players who mustered only 36 appearances between them last season and are sucking dry much of the financial resources?

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I think the answer to that is that he needs to be given time to move those types of players on and bring in players he feels he can mould and trust.

The biggest asset Nelsen and Toronto FC have at their disposal is their world-class academy. But again, that is going to take time to fully realise its potential and start regularly producing talent good enough to play first team football.

In the meantime Nelsen is going to have to do as he did as a player - inspire and motivate players to play at a level beyond their ability and grind out results to end the season with some measure of respectability.

- Danny Hay is a former All White

- Sunday News

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