TORONTO - According to Toronto FC head coach Paul Mariner, former Italian international Alessandro Nesta is a potential summer target for the Reds — they just haven’t spoken with the former Milan man or his agent.
Multiple reports surfaced Thursday linking Nesta to Toronto after he was spotted taking in TFC’s 3-0 win in Montreal on Wednesday. With a game against the New York Red Bulls tonight in Toronto, Mariner was pressed following Friday’s pre-match training session at Downsview Park on the likelihood of Nesta joining the side.
“(Toronto) is a massive club,” said Mariner, when asked to answer to earlier rumours that stated Nesta’s arrival was imminent. “I’d put (the club) up there with Los Angeles and New York … There’s no doubt that (Nesta is) a fantastic player but we’ll have to see what happens … He’s on our list.”
In a short phone interview Friday, team executive Earl Cochrane followed that up by confirming to the Sun that although Nesta’s name has bounced around BMO Field, the club hasn’t reached out to the Italian or his agent as it continues to discuss potential player acquisitions internally.
Speculation of a summer signing kicked off following last weekend’s disappointing draw at home to New England when Mariner answered a question with a question.
“What do you think,” he responded, when asked about positional upgrades, “central defence, possibly?
“We need a bossman,” Mariner continued earlier this week. “Someone who can patrol that back line.”
Maybe, but it would seem negotiations would need to happen first — something both Mariner and Cochrane confirmed haven’t taken place, yet.
GOALS, GOALS, GOALS
With Adrian Cann still sidelined and Dicoy Williams struggling to regain match fitness, Toronto’s makeshift back line will look to survive an even bigger test than it faced three days ago when it hosts the highest scoring club in the league.
Thierry Henry returned from injury last week in New York’s 3-2 win over D.C. United and Kenny Cooper continues to have a breakout season since joining the Bulls from Portland Timbers this season.
With 20 goals between them, the pair currently sits Nos. 2 and 3 behind San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski in the Golden Boot race.
“Thierry coming back,” Mariner said of his concerns ahead of his fifth match in charge. “You have got to respect him. He’s an absolute legend … I think (Joel) Lindpere is a very, very good player. And Dax McCarty tries to get things going for them as he’s a tremendous passer of the ball.”
Since seizing command June 7, with the help of Danny Koevermans’ streak of timely goals, Mariner has jumped out to a 1-1-2 (five points) record, surpassing former head coach Aron Winter’s three points accumulated during the first three months of MLS play.
Although conceding stoppage-time goals to Houston and New England put Mariner’s newly implemented 4-4-2 system in doubt after the Englishman said the club wouldn’t concede as many goals, a strong defensive showing at Stade Saputo on Wednesday night turned heads.
“I just think the players look a little more comfortable,” Mariner said of the changes he has implemented. “If you’re in a comfortable situation you generally start to do your best work. We’ve got a hell of a long way to go. We enjoyed Wednesday night but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Reds haven’t beaten New York since 2009 and have conceded 16 times in their past five matches against the Red Bulls. On the verge of a 1-0 win at home last October, Henry gave the visitors a crucial share when he was allowed to turn after receiving a corner in the 88th minute — a scenario that continues to plague the Reds this season.
“We have nothing to lose tomorrow because they’re No. 1 on 30 points,” Koevermans said. “It’s just another game but we have to play with a lot of respect for New York.”
KICKOFF - NY @ TFC - 7ET SN
Jeremy Hall vs. Joel Lindpere
After receiving a bicycle kick to the face in Montreal, a bruised Jeremy Hall told a group of reporters Friday he’s OK ahead of tonight’s tie with the Eastern Conference-leading Red Bulls. With Richard Eckersley still stationed in the heart of TFC’s defence, Hall should earn another start on the right side against a high-flying New York side that has scored a lot of goals this year. Leading the charge up the left for the visitors will likely be Lindpere, whose tireless work ethic and quality left-footed service will present a stern test for one of Toronto’s most impressive players this season. It’s a battle between a pair a blue-collard wing players who always compete.
FITNESS: For the second consecutive weekend the Reds are on short rest playing a side that has had four extra days of recovery. If tonight’s match turns into a back-and-forth marathon look for Toronto’s fitness to dwindle.
HENRY-COOPER: Toronto’s back four must deny one of the most dynamic duos in MLS service or risk the Frenchman and American beating it in a number of different ways. Look for a hard-as-nails defender in Richard Eckersley to be nipping at Henry’s heels all game.
SET PIECES: Mariner has been working hard in training to organize the Reds in a way that will decrease the number of goals allowed off crosses and corners. Big Danny Koevermans and Ryan Johnson will likely retreat into the box to help defend.
PROBABLE FIRST XI
Kocic, Morgan, Emory, Eckersley, Hall, Avila, Frings, de Guzman, Dunfield, Johnson, Koevermans