Toronto FC’s newfound confidence under manager Paul Mariner will be tested Saturday night when the high-flying New York Red Bulls come to visit.
Toronto is 1-1-2 since Mariner took over in the wake of Aron Winter’s departure and coming off a midweek 3-0 win in Montreal. The former English international has brought emotion and an easier style of play to grasp than Winter’s complex 4-3-3 approach and his team has responded.
“Paul made it very simple for us, simplified the game for us,” said goalkeeper Milos Kocic.
“We were just complicating our life with Aron,” he added. “With Paul, I think, it’s much simpler to play now and it gives you more confidence.”
Mariner believes his players are feeling more comfortable, which has produced better performances.
“The confidence is high,” he said.
Striker Danny Koevermans is on a scoring roll, helped in part by some pinpoint cross from left fullback Ashtone Morgan. Ryan Johnson is finally getting some breaks in front of goal and midfielder Julian de Guzman has found his form, delivering some exquisite passes.
Bur Mariner says there is plenty of more work to do.
“We’ll never turn the corner fully for me until we’re really flying,” he said. “We want to do well, we want to take this club to the heights and we’ve got a hell of a long way to go. And I said that to the lads after the match (in Montreal). We enjoyed Wednesday night but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
With a record of 9-4-3, the Red Bulls have 22 points more than Toronto (2-10-2). New York, 6-2-2 in its last 10 matches, has been unbeatable at Red Bull Arena this season with a 5-0-2 mark, but is only 4-4-1 on the road.
Of course that road record still contains twice as many wins as Toronto has collected anywhere this season.
“We have nothing to lose (Saturday),” said Koevermans.
Toronto FC has already shown it can make adjustments under Mariner.
After taking leads against Houston and New England, Toronto moved too far back defensively and paid the price. Two-goal leads turned into ties — and two points dropped per game.
Against Montreal in midweek, once Toronto got the lead, it kept pressing offensively and won by a comfortable margin.
“Paul was screaming from the bench, gave them instructions what to do,” said Kocic. “I was trying to push them up (the field) ... That’s how you’re supposed to play every game. Don’t give them too much respect. There’s no need. If you lead 2-0, just finish the game 4-0 if you can.”
New York star forward Thierry Henry is listed as questionable with a calf strain. Henry came in as a substitute last Sunday in a 3-2 win over D.C. United
Henry was the difference-maker last season when the Red Bulls came to BMO Field. The former French international scored a world-class goal off a corner, twisting his body like a ballerina, with one minute left to give the visitors a 1-1 tie.
“He scored a great goal last year against us,” said Kocic. “I remember that day. I remember the game and everything that happened.”
Like the fans, Mariner seems to want to see Henry on the field even though he acknowledged the striker is a handful for any team.
“You’ve got to respect him,” Mariner said. “He’s an absolute legend. I love watching him play, at the Arsenal. He’s come over here, he’s been lighting it up.”
The Red Bulls will be without Mexican defender-midfielder Rafa Marquez (calf) and centre back Markus Holgersson (ankle).
NOTES — Toronto forward Johnson will no doubt take some belated satisfaction from the one-game suspended handed to Montreal midfielder Patrice Bernier, who chopped the Jamaican international down Wednesday with a take-no-prisoners tackle. Bernier was also fine an undisclosed amount “for his reckless challenge that endangered the safety of his opponent.” ... Fullback Jeremy Hall sat out practice Friday to see a doctor after taking a boot and ball to the face Wednesday. But he said he felt fine and hopes to play Saturday ... Mariner confirmed his interest in veteran Italian defender Alessandro Nesta, who is looking for a new team since leaving AC Milan.