March 24, 2011 MLS--Mariner Reveals Toronto Love Affair (from

>Mariner Reveals Toronto Love Affair
Reds' director of player personnel envied 'the fever pitch' of TFC fans.
Duane Rollins
March 24, 2011

TFC director of player personnel Paul Mariner looked to Toronto with envy as New England coach.

TORONTO — It’s possible that Paul Mariner is in Toronto, at least in part, because of Danny Dichio.

After all, it was Dichio who set off a celebration during the final game of TFCs' inaugural season in 2007. His improbable and last-gasp equalizer against the New England Revolution (and their assistant coach Mariner) ignited BMO Field as if the Reds had won the MLS Cup, and the TFC fans eventually took to the pitch, where they danced and sang for close to an hour after the final whistle.

It was a fitting end to a magical inaugural season in Toronto, where fans developed a reputation as some of the most passionate in the history of Major League Soccer.

For Mariner, the scenes at BMO Field that day and throughout the 2007 season certainly had an influence when he was considering the offer from Toronto last year to join the club as the Director of Player Development.

“I always looked over the border with envy at Toronto,” Mariner said just after being hired in early January. “I remember in the inaugural season with New England when we came up ... the fever pitch of the fans, which was something I hadn’t witnessed since my days in over in Europe. I sort of fell in love with the city then.”

Toronto fans, who have now waited 17 years for a championship since the Toronto Blue Jays last brought sporting glory to the city, are desperate to fall in love with Mariner, too. All he needs to do is win, and win quickly.

Those who know Mariner best suggest that he might just be able to do it.

A Coach In The Front Office

Mariner’s influence on MLS is so great that it's sometimes easy to forget he's never had a club of his own here. He was an assistant under Steve Nicol in New England for six full seasons and is now in Toronto to assist new head coach Aron Winter as he adjusts to the North American game.

Make no mistake, however: Mariner is nobody’s No. 2. He was instrumental in developing the great Revolution teams of last decade and, according to Toronto FC director of business Paul Beirne, he was a key part of TFC’s re-building strategy.

“It was a really smart move to bring him in at the same time as Aron Winter,” Beirne said. “We’re now having real debates about key issues within the front office.”

It’s Mariner’s personality that allows him to play that kind of role, Beirne said. No person is completely without ego, but Mariner is close to selfless within a front office team, and his experience with the MLS landscape will be essential to TFC's turnaround.

“He has superb North American knowledge,” Beirne said. “We knew he was knowledgeable when we hired him, but it was surprising how MLS-savvy he was. He knows the salary cap and rules inside out. He knows what everyone (in the league) is doing.”

Less than three months into the new job, Mariner has already rewarded those who put their faith in him.

“He’s developing Aron's skills, he’s developing Earl (Cochrane), he’s developing me, he’s even developing (MLSE COO) Tom Anselmi in some ways,” Beirne said. “He’s invaluable.”

So invaluable, in fact, that many observers were surprised that Mariner would agree to come to Toronto in any role other than as top boss. Mariner seemed to be the leading candidate for every head coaching vacancy in MLS for the last five years.

But Mariner insists that he doesn’t need to be in charge of a club to feel fulfilled. Actually, he told that he is “very likely” done with front line coaching.

“This particular role is attractive to me at this time in my life,” he said after accepting the TFC post.

He had a “dream” opportunity to return to his native England and manage Plymouth Argyle, the club he started his playing career with during the mid-1970s. But the rigors of managing the Pilgrims - who crashed out of the Championship after the 2009 season and then faced serious financial issues last year - soured the job for Mariner, who found himself missing North American soccer.

“I have been in North America for almost 20 years,” he said. “It’s become a second home to me. I’m happy to be back.”

Also happy to see Mariner back is former MLS striker Taylor Twellman. When Mariner got a hold of Twellman he was just 23 years old and still years away from becoming one of the premier American strikers of the last decade.

“What’s great about Paul is that he really knows what to look for in a player,” said Twellman, who scored 101 career MLS goals before retiring last year. “He helped me understand my weaknesses and made me the player that I was.”

Twellman says that beyond Mariner’s value in shaping a player and making him better, he is also invaluable to a MLS team’s management of the salary cap. He can find value in the NCAA draft and knows exactly how to find the diamonds in the rough that every MLS title contender needs to have on its roster.

And there is little doubt that Toronto need all the help they can get when it comes to acquiring players. More than 80 have suited up for the Reds in just four seasons, and they've still never reached the postseason.

Work To Be Done

Was there an easier career option for Mariner than helping rescue Toronto FC? Of course. But Mariner has embraced the pressure of bringing solace and silverware to the team and a restless market that's become one of the great pressure cookers of the league.

Beirne says that the organization has every faith that he will do just that. However, Beirne cautions, it might not happen immediately. Before things get better there may be a few more frustrating days, like last Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps.

“It’s going to take (Mariner and Winter) time to build this, but even on Saturday there was a lot that was really encouraging,” Beirne said. “Although we are frustrated by the result, we’d be foolhardy to base our opinion on what they are trying to do on one game.”

Twellman agrees, and thinks that Mariner is talented and devoted to see TFC through this re-build.

”Does (Mariner) have an ego? Sure, he does – in the sense that he cares about how he represents himself and how he’s perceived," Twellman said, "But, once you put that hat on and are part of the same team he is, he’s incredibly loyal.”

Beirne says that Winter understands how great of an asset Mariner can be.

“Aron knows that he needs to listen to Paul,” Beirne said. “He’s a younger coach and Paul has a lot to offer – especially when it comes to MLS.”

Twellman, for one, agrees.

“You’re asking the right person and you’re asking the wrong person (about whether Mariner will be successful),” Twellman said. “When I retired I could tell how much it affected Paul. When he gets involved with a player he becomes incredibly loyal and sincere in his desire to see that player succeed.

“Toronto’s got itself a good one.”

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