Press conferences are a funny business. As a reporter, you have to separate a lot of wheat to get to the chaff, and Payne supplied plenty of chaff by saying how this was the only MLS team he would leave D.C. for, and by heaping praise on Paul Mariner and Earl Cochrane, two men in key positions who he did not hire.
But Payne also came across as a man of vision, explaining that building a successful MLS team isn’t just about going out and signing the best players available, but also "by taking the group you have and making them better, either collectively or individually."
“That sounds simple but it’s not necessarily the approach in a lot of places in the rest of the world where the idea is, well, if a player is not working out, we get rid of him and sign a new one," Payne explained.
“It’s not a surprise that the two most successful coaches in the history of this league are Bruce Arena and Sigi Schmid, two guys who had more than 20 years of college soccer coaching before they ever came into the league. So they were very comfortable as teachers.”
It’s interesting to note that Payne was the one who hired Arena from the NCAA ranks and gave him his first head coaching job in the professional ranks. Arena, of course, has gone on to become one of the best coaches in MLS history.
Further to the theme of Payne being a man of vision, it was very encouraging to hear him talking about implementing a strategic plan for TFC, something that has been unheard of in the club’s first six years.
And his take on how to build a successful MLS team was fascinating, explaining the D.C. United approach was built on a philosophy, guiding principles, a style and a system.
The philosophy was to play what he called “dominant soccer,” to dictate how and where the game would be played on the field. The style was based on possession, the guiding principals referenced the character of the players, and the system was a “function of who the players are on your team."
That last point in particular has been lost on TFC, particularly under the tactically intransigent Aron Winter who insisted on employing an Ajax-influenced 4-3-3 formation even though he didn’t have the players to pull it off.
“You have to be adaptable, but the principles of play don’t change,” Payne stated.
It all sounds good, and the promise from MLSE that Payne will be left alone to do the job he was brought in to do is very encouraging.
But we’ve been burned far too many times in the past by MLSE to simply take their word for it, and it’s not totally unreasonable to expect that they’ll somehow find a way to bungle what on the surface appears to be a solid appointment.
Like everything with MLSE and Toronto FC, time will only tell if Kevin Payne is the answer to all that ails the club.