The current QPR defender becomes the club's eighth head coach, replacing Paul Mariner.
The hiring reunites Nelsen with Kevin Payne, Toronto FC’s president and general manager. He previously played for Payne at D.C. United for four seasons, captaining the team to its fourth championship in 2004. Nelsen, 35, becomes the youngest head coach in TFC history.
Nelsen is currently a defender for Queens Park Rangers. He is under contract with the Premier League club until the end of June, but he remains in discussion with the team to determine when he will join Toronto.
"It's the dawn of a new era, as far as I'm concerned," Payne said in a press conference at BMO Field. "I always thought that Ryan would end up becoming an outstanding coach."
Since 1999, Nelsen has more than 40 caps for New Zealand’s All Whites national team. He also captained the All Whites at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and most recently, at the 2012 London Olympics.
Fran O’Leary also joins Toronto FC as the team’s assistant coach and director of player recruitment. O’Leary spent the last seven years at Bowdoin College’s men’s soccer program where he served as head coach.
Mariner was fired by Toronto following a disappointing season in which the club finished with a league-worst 23 points. Mariner took over as head coach in June 2012, replacing Aron Winter.
“This was a difficult decision, but one that was made in consideration of the strategic and cultural direction our club is taking," Payne said. “I want to thank Paul for his dedicated service to Toronto FC. He had a difficult task last season when he was asked to take over the club after a tough start. On behalf of our club, we wish him well in his future endeavours.”