Aron Winter’s reign as head coach and technical director of Toronto FC has come to an end.
Canada’s original Major League Soccer club made the move Thursday, installing former England international Paul Mariner – who had been the club’s director of player development – as his successor with immediate effect.
“We’ve tried to be really patient for several weeks and ultimately we came to the conclusion that the decision made sense for both of us,” said Tom Anselmi, MLSE executive vice-president and chief operating officer.
The only surprising thing about Thursday’s decision is that it took this long for club owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to pull the trigger. In 17 months in charge, Winter’s record as a coach was less than stellar, with the Dutchman presiding over just seven wins, 20 losses and 15 draws in MLS play. After missing the playoffs once again last season – TFC is still waiting to reach that promised land – the club started this campaign with a league record nine straight losses, a run of mediocrity halted just two weeks ago with a 1-0 home win against the Philadelphia Union.
His club fared markedly better in cup competitions, winning the four-team Canadian Championship both this year and last, a triumph that propelled TFC to an unexpected run through the CONCACAF Champions League, where it became the first Canadian side to reach the semi-final before crashing out to Mexico’s Santos Laguna two months ago.
Still, with support starting to dwindle in the club’s sixth season of existence, MLSE clearly felt compelled to make a move. Average attendance so far this season is 18,889, above the league average but down 4.11 per cent from a year ago. With the playoffs already looking out of reach less than a third of the way through the league program – TFC is currently 15 points back of the final postseason berth in the Eastern Conference – the need to inject some optimism into the rest of the season was of paramount importance.
“We’ve been really lucky from Day 1 with this amazing fan base ... and we haven’t delivered the goods,” Anselmi said. “You can’t take that for granted, we’ve got to deliver the goods. We had a free pass for a few years as an expansion franchise and now it’s time to step up to the plate. We said that last year, we haven’t done it this year and that’s why we came to the conclusion that a change needed to be made. It wasn’t working - seven wins in 44 games just isn’t good enough in this league.”
In Mariner, who was Steve Nicol’s assistant for five years with the New England Revolution, Toronto finally has a proven MLS coach in the dugout. The former Arsenal and Ipswich man helped guide the Revs to three consecutive MLS Cup finals, and though they lost on each occasion, the club was noted for its ability to promote youth, most notably by bringing through former MLS most valuable player and United States international Taylor Twellman.
Unlike Winter, who insisted on the famed 4-3-3 formation made famous by Ajax Amsterdam and fashionable by Barcelona, Mariner isn’t about to get burdened down with systems.
“We’ve got to get results, it’s very simple,” he said. “I think the philosophy of most fans throughout the world is that if we’re getting points, getting wins, style is not that important. This is the sharp, sharp end of football.”
Mariner has had a chance to get to grips with the players on his team, having been doing some on-field work of late with the strikers – his position during his playing career. Toronto also boasts a perfect record during that two-game stint. Coincidence? Having moved onto its seventh coach in six years, Toronto will hope not.