2012 in Review: Q&A with TFC head coach Paul Mariner
Over the next three weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 5-21-8 (23 points); 36 GF / 62 GA (-26 GD)
TORONTO – Paul Mariner began the season as Toronto FC's director of player development. But after 10 games, he was the team's head coach and director of soccer operations, taking over from Aron Winter after a dreadful start to the league campaign.
The Reds reached the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals by upsetting the LA Galaxy 4-3 on aggregate, but that certainly didn’t translate into MLS success.
Toronto lost their first nine league games, winning for the first time on May 26, when Danny Koevermans scored a late goal against Philadelphia.
Mariner took over on June 7. He replaced Winter’s 4-3-3 with a 4-4-2 and simplified things.
After losing their first game under Mariner at Kansas City on June 16, the Reds went 4-1-4 in their next nine games.
But just before the half during the third win of that run – July 14 at New England – Koevermans suffered a torn ACL in his right knee that required season-ending surgery. The Dutchman scored nine goals in his 16 league games, six of them in the nine games he played after Mariner took over.
Toronto defeated Colorado, 2-1, on July 18 and didn’t win again in the league, going 0-10-4. They had two CCL wins against CD Águila, but didn’t survive the group stage, losing twice to Santos Laguna.
WATCH: Mariner speaks after Payne hire
Despite the rough end to 2012, Mariner is enthused about next season as he tries to put TFC in the playoffs for the first time in their seventh season of existence.
MLSsoccer.com: After the victory over the LA Galaxy to advance to the Champions League semifinals, how did you feel the season would go?
Mariner: You’re always hopeful, but being the experienced person that I am, the way we were setting up was very expansive. I don’t think anybody saw the next nine games in the league going the way they went. When you factor in that six of the games were home games, it puts you in a very deep hole.
MLSsoccer.com: When you took over a team that was 1-9-0, what were your feelings?
Mariner: I’m a very positive person. I’m a completely cup’s half-full, not half-empty. I just wanted to change the system a little bit. I wanted to put people in their comfort zones, make them feel a little bit happier, simplify matters.
The biggest bugbear was conceding late in games. Another bugbear was conceding from set pieces, that was another problem. So we started to iron some of those things out. Then again, our injuries were the story. We started to lose too many players. It was trying, to say the least, but I’m really looking forward to next season.
MLSsoccer.com: How encouraging was it that the team went 4-2-4 in the first 10 games after you took over?
Mariner: I suppose the highlight for me personally was when I first took over and we started to put a little bit of a run together with more or less the team we wanted to play, minus a couple of exceptions. The turning point was Koevermans going down. It was a big blow for everybody, obviously for Dan. A big blow for me because I thought we were working together very, very well. His leadership qualities off the field and on the field were at their highest point, and it sort of took the wind out of our sails a little bit.
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MLSsoccer.com: Did you know that you would miss Koevermans to that extent?
Mariner: Goals are a premium in Major League Soccer. And you have somebody [in Koevermans] who you feel may score in every game. We were creating some very good chances, we were supplying him well. What you do as a coach, you hope somebody can come in and fill those rather large shoes.
That’s what happens in professional sports all the time. People go down and you hope somebody can come in. But there were too many people that we had to use that were young and inexperienced. Too many games for us, not enough time on the training ground to solidify what we wanted to do so it became difficult.
But we were in every game. Only the Philly game away from home [a 3-0 loss on July 8] I didn’t think we were in. The boys did their level best but we just came up short.
MLSsoccer.com: You’ve tried to keep it simple and play the type of game that suits the players you have. What kind of game do you hope to see Toronto play eventually?
Mariner: Playing in the right areas. If you say you want to build from the back, you’ve got to have the right players to build from the back. You’ve got to have the right players to go through midfield and so on and so forth.
What we have to be aware of is that we finished rock bottom in the league. We’ve got some players coming back from injury, some players coming back from serious injury. We know we need to add a couple of components. It’s not going to be the beautiful game overnight. But what we’ve got to do is to have first things first. And then our principles and our philosophy are still there.
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We still want to play bright, attractive football. We want to be attack minded, we want to play a high-pressure game. We want to do those things. Eventually, as we go through preseason as the team develops, then we’ll find out where we are with the players at our disposal. That’s what we’ll do. With this team, with the players we have, we have to walk before we can run.
I’ve got the system in my mind – I’ve got a few systems in my mind with the personnel that we’ve got – but it’s not in stone yet until we start to do our technical work down in Florida.
MLSsoccer.com: You saw how the crowds dropped off as the season went on. How do you get them back?
Mariner: The product on the field. Always has been, always will be. With the hiring of Kevin [Payne as team president] and all the work that we’re putting in now for the various drafts, scouting, internationally and locally, it’s up to us to put it right on the field. As soon as we put it right on the field, the crowds will come back. The fans are really passionate and they’re upset with things. With some wins, I think they’ll be back.