Q&A with Toronto FC's Paul Mariner

TFC's Paul Mariner, answers questions about the season and his future with the team. TFC  end of...

TFC's Paul Mariner, answers questions about the season and his future with the team. TFC end of season presser at Toronto's BMO field Oct. 24, 2011. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency)

KURT LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:01 PM ET

Toronto Sun soccer columnist Kurtis Larson recently sat down with Toronto’s FC’s director of player development, Paul Mariner, to discuss player negotiations, acquisitions and the 2012 season a month before players report to camp.

LARSON: Have any new details emerged on how negotiations with Richard Eckersley and Burnley are going? Supporters are always looking for updates on whether talks with his English club have stalled.

MARINER: It’s a strange one and a question of patience. We’ve presented our best-case scenario to everybody, but we’ve got to remember that Richard is a Burnley player. His agents are working closely with Burnley to try and finalize something. It’s one of those things where it could break (anytime). There’s a couple of options: We get him out of his contract or we get him on loan. We’re working hard to pull one of those off.

LARSON: Another player is Joao Plata. Reports last week stated that a deal that would see the Ecuadoran return to BMO Field was close to being finalized.

MARINER: Exactly the case. You’ve got to remember that LDU (Quito) has been battling in the Copa Sudamericana. They’ve been traveling a lot; they’ve had a lot of games they’ve had to jam in before the end of the (season). But, yes, it’s close to being finalized.

LARSON: There’s no denying Plata is one of the brightest young players in the league. But there was that period in the middle of the season where he drifted in and out of games. Are supporters and fans putting too much into his first season?

MARINER: He’s taken on a really ballsy move in moving all the way up from Ecuador and it must have been a shock to his system. He’s still a young boy. I think what happened with Joao is that it was probably a little too much. He has probably never flown so much in his entire life or been in an environment where it’s super professional and very demanding ... We love him and we think we’re close to getting him. You’re quite right, we don’t want to put too much pressure on him because it’s a very long season. But there’s no doubt that he can create and score goals.

LARSON: Not many people in North America know much about Reggie Lambe, the Bermudian attacker TFC signed this past week. Will he be an immediate contributor?

MARINER: I think he will be. He was a little bit hurt to be rejected in England ... I don’t think the (English) Championship really suits a player of his abilities. He’s very quick, very technical ... If you watch many (Championship) games it’s generally kick-and-run sort of stuff. I think the way that we play will suit his game much better. He’ll get the ball out wide and he’ll be taking people one-on-one. It gives us options. A lot of teams in England still wanted to sign him.

LARSON: Some people were surprised that Adrian Cann was tossed into the expansion draft mixer. Where is Cann at with TFC right now? Is he in your plans or is it a situation where it’s going to depend on the kind of camp he has?

MARINER: He was injured and that’s why he was exposed (to Montreal). If you try and put yourself in Montreal’s shoes, do they want to bring in a player that potentially won’t be able to play until mid-year? It was a calculated gamble on our part but we think that we did the right thing. His rehab has been going fantastically well and he’s a very driven young man. We’ve got strength in the centre of defence positions but we need to get some players in for more competition.

LARSON: Although he’s expected back in camp come January, can you talk a little about Stefan Frei joining up with an historic club like Liverpool for a short training stint this winter?

MARINER: Liverpool is a sensational club and I hope that Stefan is going to go over and learn some stuff. It will be a fantastic experience for him. He picked up his injury and then Milos Kocic came in and did very well (this season). Stefan is a super professional and he understood it, but we thought it might be good for Stefan to go over and build his confidence up to make sure he has a good feeling about coming back … We’re in a very fortunate position with two superb goalkeepers.

LARSON: Toronto FC has one of the premier and most productive academy systems in both the U.S. and Canada. Can we expect any homegrown signings this year? Any young players graduating from TFC’s youth system to the full team?

MARINER: I don’t know about participating in the first team, but I certainly see us signing more (homegrown) players — there’s some great talent. Some families and some players want to get an education and want to go to university which is fine, but we want to have an influence on where we place those players. We have got an excellent academy program with very good players that we’ve got some hopes for and I think we will be signing some players. Don’t forget when the players do go to (universities) that they’re still our player when they come out of it.

LARSON: While it was before your time at the club, supporters are always wondering about the status of former academy standout Nicholas Lindsay.

MARINER: I think if he had his time over again he certainly wouldn’t have done what he did. It’s going to be a long road for him to come back but the club and MLS are staying with him. Every single person I spoke with said he was a player with an unbelievable future. Sometimes you make some mistakes and it doesn’t quite work out for you. We’re all hoping and praying he gets lucky and comes back as fast as he possibly can.

LARSON: The roster is beginning to thin. With so much focus on Eckersley and Plata at the moment, what about other potential signings?

MARINER: We’re actively looking to fill some key spots. The fact of the matter is whether we fill those spots in the draft or whether we fill those spots in the market. My guess is that we’ll see five, maybe six, players coming in (for pre-season) and possibly more. We’re actively looking and we’re discussing with agents as we speak. We’re very happy with our draft board at the present moment. But, as you know, negotiations with clubs and with agents tend to drag on a little bit because we’ve got to explain about the salary cap.

LARSON: You mentioned the draft. Other than a few exceptions, Toronto’s drafting over the past five years has been pretty poor. Is the club taking a serious look at this year’s class in an effort to find some immediate contributors?

MARINER: I’m very, very hopeful that we can get at least two players that can really contribute … We’ve had seven scouts working in the NCAA and we’ve got six scouts working internally in Canada. We’ve got the 50 top players in our view that we feel that are going to the MLS Combine. It’s a question of what we can get at (picks) four and 10. I’m very confident where we are with the draft.

LARSON: Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber announced plans for next year’s season to be comprised of an unbalanced schedule. What do you think of MLS focusing on less travel and more regional rivalries?

MARINER: I don’t think there’s a perfect solution. We’re going to get some exciting games playing teams three times in the (Eastern Conference) and it’s obviously going to create great atmospheres with Montreal and ourselves. The league did a great job of asking all the (clubs) what they think. I think some fans will be happy with it and some fans will be unhappy with it. In the end, it’s going to be fair.

LARSON: You were on three MLS Cup teams during your time with the New England Revolution. Keeping that experience in mind, what are the major differences between those Cup contenders and TFC’s current setup?

MARINER: I think some of the stuff we addressed in the second half of (last) season was the core group and the atmosphere in the dressing room — and quality. You need a spine that’s going to not concede goals from set pieces and you need players that can put the ball in the net. We had a guy called Taylor Twellman (with New England) who you always knew was going to score. I’m getting that feeling with Danny Koevermans and I think he’s at a point now where he has gotten to known the league a little better and he knows what he needs to do when he gets opportunities. He just seems to be one of those strikers … where all of a sudden he’s able to come up with a goal to turn the game for you. We’re not that far away and we’re working really diligently to upgrade the levels in every single department of the football club.

 


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