FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Toronto FC coach Paul Mariner heard his name linked with MLS coaching vacancies for what felt like an interminable period of years.
It took far longer than anyone might have expected for him to land the type of job he always coveted on this side of the Atlantic, but his new role with Toronto FC now brings him into direct conflict with the most influential part of his MLS career in his first home match as head coach of the Red against New England on Saturday (5:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
Mariner spent the better part of six seasons at Gillette Stadium (2004-09) working as an assistant to former boss Steve Nicol. Most of the players from that era left the Revolution at some stage or another over the following years, but the few remaining links – including Coach Jay Heaps and veteran number one Matt Reis – remember the influence Mariner had over his team and the work he put in.
WATCH: Heaps on taking on Mariner and TFC
“It's beyond deserved,” Heaps told MLSsoccer.com. “I always thought that when he was in the front office I wanted to see him on the sideline. We had many conversations about it over the past two years, whether it was going to be with Toronto, New England or another club. I think Paul always wanted to get onto the sideline. You can see the enthusiasm [he has for] it.”
Mariner's exuberance for the game surged through the Revolution during his time with the club. TFC's first two performances under Mariner suggest the Reds have started to reflect the deportment of their new boss, according to Reis.
“It's going to be fun [to play against his team],” Reis said. “He brings a lot of energy. You saw it in the [the 3-3 draw with Houston on Wednesday night] how excitable he is. I think that's going to filter down to the rest of his team. They're starting to get some results, so it's going to be important to not take them lightly.”
That particular possibility likely won't pose any issues for the Revs as they enter a potentially charged atmosphere at BMO Field. With a familiar face on the opposing sideline, an expectant crowd hoping to see improvement from the Reds and a group of players fighting for their jobs under a new coach, this encounter hardly represents standard fare for a MLS road trip.
Heaps said his players must grasp the possible pitfalls ahead of them and train their focus on the duties they must complete in order to secure a result.
“It's a situation where the emotions are going to be high,” Heaps said. “It's going to be a new environment. We're not 100 percent sure what to expect, other than we know it will be high intensity. They could switch the lineup again, switch the formation again. They're in a different state of mind than they were a few weeks ago. As a club, we have to worry about ourselves and what we're going to do going into that game.”
If the Revs fulfill their duties, then they will send their old friend crashing to a second defeat in three games in charge. The business on Saturday may leave one or both sides unhappy for the moment, but Reis said he hopes Mariner succeeds with TFC once the referee whistles for full time at BMO Field.
“I know that it's something he's been wanting and hoping for the past couple of years: to be in charge of his own team,” Reis said. “I'm excited for him in that regard, but, at the same time, we'd definitely like to put it to him, beat him and have a beer and a laugh afterward. To a man, I'm very happy and very excited for him. I know that good things will start to happen up there after this weekend.”