TORONTO – Paul Mariner is in for a serious test in his first game as Toronto FC head coach.
The Reds (1-9-0) go up against Sporting Kansas City (8-3-1) at Livestrong Sporting Park on Saturday (8:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online), their first match in three weeks and the first since Mariner replaced Aron Winter as head coach on June 7.
Before Saturday, Mariner’s last game as a manager was late in the 2010 season when he was Plymouth Argyle in England.
“It’s fantastic,” the 59-year-old former England international said after training on Thursday. “I didn’t know how much I missed it.”
In his first week working with the team in training, he has shown more of a high-energy style than Winter. He has been much more vocal. He is blunt in his appraisals when he addresses the players on the pitch – and it's all caught the players’ attention.
“It’s just the way I roll,” Mariner said. “That’s my [modus operandi]. Either you like it or you don’t like it.”
So far, it seems like the TFC players are buying in.
“Right off the bat, the feeling I get just walking into today’s changing room, guys are upbeat and the energy’s there,” said midfielder Julian de Guzman, who returned to TFC on Thursday after a stint with the Canadian national team. “It’s a positive response.”
As they go into their match at Kansas City, Mariner has tried not to pile too much on his players, although there will be an adjustment in formation – likely to a 4-4-2 instead of Winter's preferred 4-3-3.
De Guzman said the theme has been “togetherness.”
“Teamwork, team spirit, individual brilliance,” he said. “Do your job.”
And they will need all of it on Saturday against Kansas City.
“I’ve seen them,” goalkeeper Milos Kocic said. “It looks like a bunch of guys with confidence. They play 4-3-3 but they’re very dangerous on the wings. They cross a lot of balls in. That’s how they score most of their goals. So they’re very dangerous on the flanks and obviously they have the guys who can finish. Very quick guys, tall. They’re an athletic team.”
Even with their newfound energy, the Reds want to be wary of that. Sporting have been known to open up the field against even the tightest defenses.
“I think it will be important that we don’t get stretched and we’re not open against them and we limit them to only a few opportunities,” midfielder Terry Dunfield said. “I think it’s important that we don’t turn Saturday into a track meet.”
And that comes down to mentality, energy and how the players respond to their new boss. Kocic, for one, is confident.
“It just depends on how we enter the game,” Kocic said. “But with the new leadership, we’ll be much better.”