With the monumental task of restoring some pride to Toronto FC’s season, new head coach Paul Mariner admits he can’t get lost in nostalgia as his team plays the New England Revolution on Saturday at BMO Field.
Mariner was an assistant coach for the Revolution from 2004 to 2009 before taking a coaching job Plymouth Argyle in England. He is now completely focused on the plight of Toronto FC — a team that is still looking for its first win since he took the helm.
“Every single game is a cup final for us,” he said after the team’s training session Friday. “We’ve got to produce. It just happens it’s New England. Obviously all my friends have been there. I worked there for a long, long time.”
Toronto (1-10-1) will be looking for its second win of the season and first since Mariner replaced Aron Winter on June 7.
Despite some encouraging signs in Mariner’s first two games (one loss, one draw), Toronto remains last in the MLS standings and is likely to miss the playoffs for the sixth straight season since debuting in 2007.
With a two-goal lead entering the final 20 minutes at Houston on Wednesday, Toronto allowed the Dynamo to pull even for a 3-3 draw. Toronto players were still pleased with their effort throughout most of the game.
The draw came after a 2-0 loss in Kansas City last weekend.
“This whole trip was a positive trip,” said midfield Eric Avila. “If we take those two we’ll be a great team. The team feels real good. It’s got a positive vibe. I think if we take that and continue onto the game on Saturday we’ll be good.”
Toronto has shown a particular vulnerability on set-piece opportunities the entire season.
In a Kansas City, poor marking allowed Julio Cesar to score off a corner kick. Houston scored its first goal off a corner on Wednesday.
The squad spent time Friday working to address the problem.
“If we get a reputation of a team that gets scored on set pieces, that’s not what you want,” said Mariner. “We worked a little on that this morning. A set piece, it’s all about attitude.”
Meantime, three Toronto players who were arrested in Houston prior to Wednesday’s game weren’t involved in Friday’s training session. The club said they won’t be involved in any way until all investigations into the matter are concluded.
Miguel Aceval, Luis Silva and Nick Soolsma were arrested for public intoxication outside a Houston nightclub.
While Mariner called the incident a “black eye” and a “thorn in his side,” he said that ultimately it comes down to how the other players are affected by off-the-field events.
With a shortened bench after the three were sent home, a point on Wednesday after a largely positive performance seems to indicate that they’ve overcome the distraction.
“Once we step over that white line everyone forgets what’s happened and we’ve got to do a job,” said defender Richard Eckersley. “We’re doing it for the pride of the club and we’ve got to pick that up a little bit and start doing that (Saturday).”
While Aceval, Silva and Soolsma were absent, goalkeeper Stefan Frei did make an appearance, chatting with some teammates after a light ride on the stationary bike.
Frei has been out since March with a broken leg suffered in training. He isn’t likely to return this season but has been cleared to do some light activity and is no longer on crutches.
Mariner also said that defender Adrian Cann was expected to have an MRI on Friday to assess the damage to the knee he sprained in Kansas City.
The Revolution comes into the game with a 5-7-2 record.