Mariner changing course

Toronto FC head coach Paul Mariner. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency file photo)

Toronto FC head coach Paul Mariner. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency file photo)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:53 AM ET

TORONTO - Paul Mariner rarely shies away from the microphone.

"That's just the way I roll," he said following an up-tempo session before TFC travelled to Kansas City ahead of tonight's match.

Announcing Thursday the Reds would move away from former head coach Aron Winter's 4-3-3 system, all things point to Mariner implementing a more traditional 4-4-2 in time for tonight's match.

Since taking control last week, the longtime New England Revolution assistant has been adamant about fixing the club's shape and working hard on defence in an attempt to clog up TFC's leaky back line.

The Reds have conceded 70 league goals over two seasons, more than any of the club in Major League Soccer.

"It has been slightly difficult," Mariner said of the short time he has had to bring his new ideas into the side. "Slowly but surely the guys are getting fitter ... we're getting their and I'm fairly happy."

But after beginning the season with an MLS record nine consecutive defeats TFC's time is close to running out. After playing in Kansas City the Reds travel to Houston for a midweek meeting Wednesday. Following its short road trip, Toronto continues its in-conference run of games with three more matches against teams from the East.

"It's big for us and it's also big for the teams that we're playing against because they know what's coming," Mariner said of a string of matches against familiar opposition. "I know Dominic (Kinnear) and Peter (Vermes) really well, and obviously I know (Jay) Heaps really well. They know what's coming."

As both put in a massive amount of minutes during CONCACAF's World Cup qualifying break, Julian de Guzman and Ryan Johnson likely won't start Mariner's first game at the helm.

To that end, as Sporting's leading goal-scorer Kei Kamara is away with Sierra Leone for an African Cup of Nations qualifier, KC will have an international absence of its own -- and some injury concerns.

Starting centre back Matt Besler will miss tonight's match after having an appendectomy and fellow starter Bobby Convey could miss through injury. Add to that former TFC attackers Jacob Peterson and Paulo Nagamura being listed as questionable and Sporting KC won't be anywhere close to full strength.

"It's tough because (we) don't know how they're going to play," said

Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes, when asked how he'll approach the match with Toronto under new direction. "That's why it's more important for us to be concentrated and focused on what we're going to be doing."

After Mariner boldly said this week TFC's opponents "know what's coming," Vermes expects TFC to be energized as they embark on what is basically a new season.

"(Mariner) is going to bring a level of enthusiasm and excitement to the group," Vermes said. "They'll feel a little more freedom I think because of the results that they've had ... He'll change that and make the game simple for them."

A failed program under a manager who simply couldn't adapt to the North American game, Winter's Total Football experiment is a thing of the past.

"Either you like it or you don't like it," Mariner said of the more traditional, hard-nosed style he plans to instill in his players.

He certainly can't do any worse that his predecessors.

MARQUEE MATCHUP

Jeremy Hall vs. Teal Bunbury

After spending most of his time on the right side of Toronto's defence, every indication is that Paul Mariner will move Jeremy Hall to the left side in place of Ashtone Morgan. Although Kansas City will be missing a few key players, when he's in-form, Teal Bunbury can be a handful on the right side of KC's attack, latching onto balls in behind opposing defences and causing trouble on the counter. As Toronto supporters are used to seeing their golden boy at left back, if Hall doesn't put in a near perfect performance, the Mariner honeymoon might be brief.

TFC KEYS

KEEP YOUR SHAPE: During training this week the Reds endlessly worked on moving away from the old regime's 4-3-3 system. Mariner confirmed to reporters Thursday he will organize Toronto in a shape he's set to debut tonight in Kansas City. The question will be whether the Reds are completely familiar with it after one week of training.

CROWD CONTROL: A capacity crowd is expected at Livestrong Sporting Park. If Toronto can grab an early lead or hold KC through the opening half, taking the home side's overwhelming support out of the match will be key.

MATCH FACTS

-In its only visit to Kansas City last season Toronto fell 4-2 to the eventual Eastern Conference champion. With Kei Kamara bagging a brace on the half hour mark, the Reds found themselves down 3-0 and out of it last season.

-Tonight's match is the first of three meetings between the clubs this season. The Reds return to KC in September after hosting Sporting in August.

-By their terms, the Reds have had a fair bit of success against KC, going 3-5-4 in 12 all-time meetings.

TFC ROSTER

GK: Milos Kocic

Defenders: Jeremy Hall, Doneil Henry, Adrian Cann, Richard Eckersley

Midfielders: Eric Avila, Terry Dunfield, Torsten Frings, Reggie Lambe

Forwards: Danny Koevermans, Luis Silva


Videos

Photos