TORONTO - Why now?
That’s the puzzling part about Toronto FC’s move to replace Aron Winter as head coach with Paul Mariner, the team’s director of player development.
TFC managed only seven wins in 44 Major League Soccer matches under Winter, including a league-record 0-9-0 start to 2012, so pushing him out isn’t a surprise, it just should have happened far earlier, if at all.
Winter seemed out of place in MLS during the club’s 6-13-15 2011 campaign and a move could have been made to replace him in the off-season.
Or, a better choice would have been on April 14, after the team lost to middling Chivas USA after falling in humbling fashion to the expansion Montreal Impact a week earlier.
At that point, the Reds had been outscored 10-2 and looked completely out of sorts.
Instead, they let the embattled Winter twist in the wind and the Dutchman managed to lead the club to its first league win on May 26, as well as a second-straight Canadian championship.
The Reds seemed to finally be getting it, yet Winter goes now?
“We’ve tried to be really patient for several weeks,” Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. chief operating officer Tom Anselmi said by way of an explanation that didn’t fully add up.
“It was a really difficult decision, but over the long haul it’s been seven wins which just isn’t good enough.
“We’re losing a wonderful guy who’s a class gentleman who brought all kinds of technical knowledge and foundation to this franchise. But at the end of the day, the right thing is to have a different voice in the dressing room getting results out of this team.”
It’s understandable MLSE desperately wanted to avoid the humiliation of turning to a seventh head coach in just six years, which was all the more reason to stay with Winter longer.
The playoffs aren’t happening barring playing at “A Supporter’s Shield level,” Mariner told the Sun last week, so what does the change at this point do?
It never should have come to this. The original tip we got prior to the hiring of Winter, Mariner and Bob de Klerk in January of 2011 was that Mariner, an experienced MLS man, would be the head coach with de Klerk’s assistance, while Winter would run the whole show.
That made more far more sense than what came to pass and Mariner even praised Winter for his vision for the franchise going forward and for the growth of its Academy. He was suited for that role, not trying to figure out or bend to a North American soccer league that is far different than anything he was used to.
Mariner praised Winter’s work in shaping the future of the club, but said the first team results needed to improve.
After talking with Anselmi the past few days, Winter chose to leave the club rather than take another position and stepped down.
De Klerk will remain as technical manager.
Players such as Terry Dunfield and Nick Soolsma also expressed surprise at the timing of the shakeup and took their share of the blame for Winter’s fate.
“If you have zero points out of nine games you can expect something can happen,” said a disappointed Soolsma, who has played well since being brought over by Winter from the Netherlands in 2011.
“If the results are not there, the coach gets fired, they can’t fire all the players so ya, that’s soccer. If you’re the coach you know that can happen always.”
This latest setup might actually work for TFC.
Like Winter, Mariner knows the game, but more importantly, he understands how things work in MLS thanks to his background as a longtime New England Revolution assistant. The Revolution made the playoffs every year Mariner assisted head coach Steve Nicol and made three MLS Cup appearances.
Things had better work out. With new ownership set to take over officially soon, it’s unlikely further failure will be tolerated.
“We all want to be here for a long time,” Anselmi admitted.
Mariner expressed confidence that he would finally be the one to steer MLSE’s greatest laughingstock — and that’s saying something — to success.
“Im a very modest man but I’ve got unbelievable confidence in my own ability,” Mariner said.
“We are better than this, we are 100% better than this.
“I can’t wait to get started.”
PAUL MARINER BIO
Born: Bolton, England
Scored 13 goals in 35 games for England’s national team, 14 in 60 games for Arsenal, 56 in 135 appearances with Plymouth Argyle, 96 in 260 games for Ipswich Town.
Won FA Cup and UEFA Cup as a player with Ipswich Town
Career as manager:
2003: Harvard — Assistant coach
2004-2009: New England Revolution — Assistant coach (three MLS Cup appearances)
2009-10: Plymouth Argyle — head coach
TORONTO FC COACHING HISTORY
Mo Johnston (Aug. 2006-Feb. 2008 as coach, fired in 2010) 6-17-7 — Lasted seemingly forever, was given too much power and too little oversight. The results were not pretty.
John Carver (Feb. 2008-April 2009) 11-15-10 — Solid soccer man, did not take to the calibre of MLS officiating. Eventually assisted Mariner at Plymouth Argyle.
Chris Cummins (April 2009-Oct. 2009) 12-11-8 — Led TFC to first Canadian title but later lambasted Johnston, who he claimed interfered with his decision-making.
Preki (Nov. 2009-Sept. 2010) 11-11-10 — Clashed with players, didn’t like media. Talented former striker inexplicably demanded deadly dull “anti-soccer” from his side.
Nick Dasovic (Sep. 2010-Jan. 2011) 3-4-3 – First Canadian head coach of Reds, took over on interim basis and allowed players to attack far more freely than predecessor. Now Canada’s U-20 coach.
Aron Winter (Jan. 2011-June 2012) 18-25-21 — Insisted on formation his players weren’t capable of having success with and club was unable to claim enough victories though he at least set a plan for the future with the academy.
Records include all competitions.