TORONTO – Newly appointed Toronto FC boss Paul Mariner may just be starting his first MLS head coaching job, but his approach to team-building is already clear: Adapt the system to fit the players.
To illustrate his point, Mariner simply has to look back to his days when he was assistant to head coach Steve Nicol at the New England Revolution, where the pair guided the Revs to three MLS Cup finals and a US Open Cup title.
When Mariner joined Nicol in 2004, one of their first moves was to draft Clint Dempsey, who went on to showcase the talent that eventually landed him in the English Premier League.
“Steve and I turned to each other and said, 'We’ve got to create a system to get this guy on the team,” Mariner told MLSsoccer.com after he was announced as Toronto's coach on Thursday. “That’s what we did. We played a 3-5-2, which is unheard of. That is my view, whether it’s right or wrong, but I think you want to get the best players on the field most of the time.”
WATCH: Mariner takes TFC hot seat
Mariner, who was the director of player development before the shake-up on Thursday, is replacing former Dutch international Aron Winter, who brought to Toronto FC a 4-3-3 system and also used a 3-4-3 when he took over as head coach and technical director in January of 2011. In both cases, Winter was insistent using three strikers.
Mariner said he does not want to tip his hand about tactics to TFC's next two opponents, Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo, but he appears to be taking a more flexible approach to the system he will use.
“All it is is minor adjustments,” he said during the media conference. “It really is. It’s not a massive overhaul.”
He feels Toronto’s players are good enough to be better than the team’s 1-9-0 league record. And he feels that the players are the key whatever formation is used.
“To me, it’s whatever works,” Mariner said. “I’ve played in different systems. I’ve played with some unbelievable managers. Bobby Robson came up with a 4-3-1-2 that nobody else had ever thought about. It’s all about players, it’s all about putting players in the right position to succeed.
“That’s my basic coaching philosophy. I want to put people with the right abilities, I want to put people with the right skill set, in the right positions and that’s it," he added. "Just give them some instruction and hope that the core of players that we’ve got [Torsten Frings] and [Danny Koevermans] and so on and so forth, they can lead the team on the field for me.”
He feels that a “decent technical player” with “decent intelligence” can play most systems.
“It just annoys me that we talk about systems so much,” he added. “Because to me the players dictate the system and the players dictate whether they’re picked or not. Not me. The players dictate it with their performances.”