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TFC GM Tim Bezbatchenko puts faith in analytics, science and player development

09/15/2014 11:27 EDT | Updated 11/15/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - General manager Tim Bezbatchenko has laid out his vision for Toronto FC, with an emphasis on analytics and science off the pitch and developing depth and young talent on it.

In a speech Sunday at a barbecue for season ticket-holders at the club's training centre, Bezbatchenko said the MLS club's transformation is an ongoing process. But he also suggested that improvements were sorely needed. He said the team, currently seventh in the Eastern Conference with a 9-11-7 record, had drafted poorly in the past and overtrained this season, leading to injuries.

The decision to fire manager Ryan Nelsen on Aug. 31 was because the club has vision and values "and we hold people accountable to them," he said.

"For whatever reason, the team had stopped playing," he said. "Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions, you have to make bold decisions ... We couldn't wait any longer."

The 32-year-old GM said the club has created a department of cognitive science, to help young players' "speed of processing" on the pitch among other things.

The franchise has also made its scouting department independent of coaches. "That has never happened here before," he said.

He said that will help create a regular database and ensure that information or contacts aren't lost when a coach leaves. The club is also committed to analytics, he said, with databases set up over the last year.

"Now we're looking to apply it in the area of cap management, the area of scouting and sports science and nutrition," he said. "Making sure that our players are not susceptible to injury because of overtraining as you've seen this year."

Bezbatchenko said he expected the salary cap to rise US$1 million to $4 million after the next collective bargain agreement, allowing for more player investment.

And ay money from players sales will be reinvested, he said. There have been question-marks over the future of star striker Jermain Defoe in recent weeks with the club turning down a franchise-record offer at the closing of the last transfer window.

"If we end up selling a player no matter who it is, that money will be invested back into the team for either designated players or a facility or something that will improve the team," Bezbatchenko said. "That's my commitment to you."

The GM pointed to youth development as one of the pillars for the club, saying it is needed to develop a solid core of players.

"It's having the talent that can withstand injuries," he said.

Toronto players have missed more a combined 80-plus games through injury this season.

Bezbatchenko said the club wants to double the number of players that have graduated from its academy over the next three years and double the number of players on the roster that were drafted by the club.

Currently the club only has three players it has drafted on it roster from its eight-year history: Daniel Lovitz, Nick Hagglund and Kyle Bekker.

"Frankly that is unacceptable," said Bezbatchenko.

Bezbatchenko also said the club is committed to improving the BMO Field experience, with stadium renovations including high-end premium areas.

The club is looking to add a feeder team in the USL Pro league, he said.

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