GM Ali Curtis secedes Toronto FC after ‘heartbreaking’ MLS season
Toronto FC wasted no time making changes following one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
Ali Curtis, general manager and senior vice president of soccer operations, was the first to come out on Monday, just a day after a dismal campaign ended in a 1-0 loss to CF Montreal in a Canadian Championship final that was nowhere near as close as suggested.
The official line was that it was a mutual separation, with Curtis, 42, married with two children, saying he was anxious to be reunited with his family, who moved to the United States during the pandemic .
It is without a doubt. But after the regular season finale on Nov. 7, Curtis was still looking for answers to the many questions raised by such a disappointing season.
Curtis, who joined the team in January 2019, was considered a member of the franchise earlier this year, with the club signing him for a multi-year contract extension in March. At the time, team president Bill Manning called him “a talented executive and a tireless worker.”
His current contract was due to expire at the end of 2021.
But changes were inevitable after Toronto dropped from second place overall in the league at 13-5-5 in 2020 to 26th this season at 6-18-10. Considering the talent on the roster, it was a mind-boggling drop from grace.
The season has clearly taken its toll on Curtis’ brain.
“It’s heartbreaking and so frustrating and heartbreaking to know that we are where we are,” Curtis told The Canadian Press after TFC’s 3-1 loss to DC United in the regular season final. “Because you know that this particular team that has been put together is capable of so much more.
“But at the end of the day, we just didn’t find a way to get results,” he added. “It was really hard.”
With growing speculation that Bob Bradley, father of Toronto captain Michael Bradley, will be installed as head coach, opening up the player position makes sense given that Bradley Sr. will likely want to have a say in his talent on the pitch.
Curtis had a tough act to follow in Toronto with longtime general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, who helped make TFC a champion before leaving to become president of the Columbus Crew.
Curtis soon found himself fighting fires.
Star Italian striker Sebastian Giovinco (at Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal FC) and Spain’s playmaker Victor Vazquez (at Qatar’s Al-Arabi SC) both moved to greener pastures in his first month. at the bar. Giovinco’s salary demands and a crisis involving Dutch defender Gregory van der Wiel, who was quickly sacked, made 2019 training camp difficult.
But Curtis scored a blow in March 2019, signing Spain playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo as designated player for Belgian club KRC Genk. With head coach Greg Vanney orchestrating the product on the field, Toronto reached the MLS Cup final in 2019 for the third time in four years.
TFC lost 3-1 to the Seattle Sounders in their hometown, but remained a contender in the 2020 season interrupted by the pandemic. Despite moving to Hartford, Toronto was in contention for the Supporters’ Shield before collapsing at the end of the regular season. The playoffs ended quickly with a 1-0 overtime loss to seventh-seeded Nashville.
Vanney went looking for a new challenge, or maybe because he saw the writing on the wall in Toronto.
The pandemic added to Curtis’ degree of difficulty. Forced south of the border again due to pandemic travel restrictions after a preseason interrupted by a COVID outbreak, injury-plagued Toronto reached the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Scotiabank League early in this season. year.
Curtis went in search of a designated player after Pablo Piatti left, a search complicated by the pandemic before the team settled on Venezuelan winger Yeferson Soteldo.
The club have enjoyed a 1-8-2 MLS start to the season as first-year coach Chris Armas was sacked after a humiliating 7-1 loss to DC United on July 3. Assistant coach Javier Perez has been in charge of the rest of the season. the season with Toronto in 5-10-8.
Toronto was officially eliminated from the playoffs on Oct. 16 in a 2-0 loss to Atlanta, although the season was long called off.
Much of what happened took place behind the scenes, with journalists being kept out of practice and limited to virtual availability.
“I think a lot has happened this year – across the board,” Curtis said. “Under the surface, on the surface. You’ve seen some things. You haven’t seen other things. There’s been a lot this year. Just a lot.
“It has been a difficult year. Very revealing, but a very difficult year for everyone.
It was death by a thousand cuts.
Armas turned out to be the wrong person. The club found themselves battling key personnel injuries and trying to survive a lack of depth on the baseline that resulted in 66 goals, the worst in the franchise. The team consistently shot themselves in the foot, falling behind early with costly mistakes.
Curtis said decisions regarding player personnel are needed. “And I would say in all areas of the team.”
Toronto’s three DPs, whose salaries totaled US $ 10.26 million this season, have combined eight goals and 14 assists in the league with Soteldo in the lead with three goals and 10 assists.
“At the end of the day, when you lose quality players, there’s not much you can do,” said Perez.
Pozuelo missed the first 10 games of the season in all competitions and never seemed to find his rhythm with injuries resulting in a disrupted season.
Star forward Jozy Altidore was a forgotten man, sidelined at the club for around two months after falling out with Armas.
Injuries restricted his game on his return and he did not make the trip to Montreal for the Canadian Championship final. The club attributed his absence to flu-like symptoms, but given the lack of explanation for his estrangement with the club, one wondered if there was more at stake.
Barring a change of mind, Altidore seems a likely candidate for an off-season buyout that would open up a DP spot.
Curtis declined to single out a player, saying everyone at the club suffered from different people with different coping mechanisms.
Curtis was content to stay in the background during his stay in Toronto.
“I would like to win and I don’t need credit on anything – on any signing, on any strategy, on any plan, on any outcome. I sincerely believe so,” he said in an interview there. two years.
Curtis wasn’t the type to divulge the dirty laundry in the club. But by staying out of the spotlight and not looking so comfortable when he was in front of the cameras, he was never really able to get his opinion across.
He took the main road on his way out.
“I started discussing my future with the club in September,” Curtis said in a statement. “During the pandemic, my family returned to the United States. After three years with Toronto FC, I can’t wait to be reunited with my wife and children, and I’m excited to take on a new professional challenge.”
He went on to congratulate Toronto – the city and the club – and the MLSE owner.
“Next year is a lot to be excited about TFC. They have great people and they are moving in an exciting direction. I wish the best to the team, staff, MLSE and TFC fans. “
A thoughtful man, Curtis had books on Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali (after whom he was named), among others in his office at TFC’s training center north of Toronto.
Curtis was previously athletic director for the New York Red Bulls and spent eight years at Major League Soccer headquarters.
As a player, Curtis won the MAC Hermann Trophy in 1999 as the best male college football player in the United States after a distinguished career at Duke University.
Drafted second in the 2001 MLS SuperDraft, he played for Tampa Bay Mutiny (then managed by Manning), DC United and Dallas until 2004.
After football, Curtis joined JP Morgan in 2004 as an analyst in Chicago and Los Angeles before working at MLS Headquarters.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published in November. 22, 2021.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press