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Kiwi connection grows at TFC with assistant coach Oughton

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The Canadian Press
6/5/2013 3:21:16 PM
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TORONTO -- Four weeks into his time at Toronto FC and Duncan Oughton has yet to witness a victory.

But the assistant coach, a friend of Toronto manager and fellow Kiwi Ryan Nelsen, sees good things ahead for the struggling MLS franchise.

"I've known Ryan a long time and I believe in him 100 per cent," Oughton said after practice this week. "I like the way he does things. On the coaching side I've seen it before as a player, how he ran teams, organized teams especially with the New Zealand team."'

Oughton believed in Nelsen enough to uproot his life from Columbus, his home for a dozen years since the Crew chose him 10th overall in the first round of the 2001 MLS SuperDraft.

Nelsen went fourth overall that same year, to D.C. United.

Both men came to California for college. Oughton played for Cal-State Fullerton, while Nelsen went to Stanford.

Although he was primarily a holding midfielder, Oughton played a variety of positions in midfield and the backline.

His playing career was interrupted by a serious knee injury in the final game of the 2004 season. He would not return until August 2006, after an experimental surgical procedure in which his own cartilage was grown in a lab and then reimplanted in his right knee.

The scar is still visible and his right leg doesn't straighten quite as well as the left. He feels the effects of the injury daily.

"Even when I came back, I was never the same," Oughton conceded. "But I think I grew upstairs. My brain had to be a little faster because my legs certainly weren't."

Oughton and Nelsen first played together in 2002, rooming together for part of New Zealand's qualifying effort for the 2003 Confederations Cup.

Now they scheme together on the sidelines.

"He's definitely got things mapped out, got a plan for how he wants to do things and how the staff want to do things," said Oughton.

The Toronto coaching staff discuss the approach and tweak it as needed, but the framework is always there in advance.

Oughton, who turns 36 on June 14, arrives with plenty of knowledge of MLS and a winning resume that includes the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (2002), MLS Cup (2008) and Supporters Shield (2004, 2008 and 2009).

He retired as a player in February 2010 after making 136 appearances for Columbus.

On the international scene, he made his debut for the All Whites against Tahiti in 2002 and went on to win 25 caps, scoring twice. His last New Zealand appearance was against South Africa in the 2009 Confederations Cup.

Oughton scored goals against Tahiti and the Solomon Islands and has plenty of memories of exotic locales.

"You do travel some great places," he recalled.

But there were also some nightmare venues.

"Steaming hot, bumpy fields. They'd kick you and the referees don't give you much love down there."

After retiring, he watched Nelsen lead New Zealand to three draws at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The All Whites failed to advance but they won their first points at the tournament and finished undefeated, ahead of four-time world champion Italy in their group.

"Ryan was obviously the face of that team," said Oughton. "It takes a team to get things done but he was the face, he was the leader. At times, I think he was kind of the organizer/coach of that team."

Oughton, who has a cheeky sense of humour, can't resist a shot at his friend, however, calling Nelsen "a B-Grade celebrity down in New Zealand."

"I don't want to give him an A. His head might get too big."

Nelsen, who was absent in Europe this week scouting and helping his family move, gives as good as he gets. When the two met before a pre-season game in Orlando in February, Nelsen gave Oughton the gears by suggesting he might have put on a few pounds.

After retiring, Oughton served briefly in the Columbus front office as assistant to the technical director before becoming an assistant coach.

Nelsen brought him on board in early May, adding to the coaching staff of Jim Brennan, Jason Bent and Stewart Kerr that he had inherited when he took over earlier this year.

"When (Nelsen) called me, not that long ago now, and said 'Hey, would you have interest.' Of course, I was interested. It's a great organization," Oughton recalled. "I feel like it's got so much potential here that he will realize with this team. I was exited to be a part of that.

"At the end of the day, although I love Columbus and it was a decision to make, it was a no-brainer really."

With Toronto (1-7-5), Oughton has been watching games from on high, going down at halftime to report his findings.

While he has yet to look down on a win, he says he sees talent, determination and improvement.

"I'm excited. I wouldn't have come here if I didn't think the right people were in place," Oughton said. "There's a lot of good players in that locker-room, a lot of good guys.

"Things are definitely looking up."

Note: Nelsen and Oughton aren't the only New Zealanders in TFC colours. Forward Jeremy Brockie, a current international, is on loan to the team from his club side in Wellington.

Ryan Nelsen (Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
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