FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A familiar face will be perched at the end of the opposition bench on Saturday evening as former New England Revolution assistant Paul Mariner now serves as the head coach for Toronto FC.
Mariner spent six years in Foxborough (2004-09) as an assistant under Steve Nicol, helping guide the Revs to three consecutive MLS Cup appearances and a pair of cup titles in the 2007 U.S. Open Cup and SuperLiga 2008. Revolution all-time leading scorer Taylor Twellman, upon retiring, credited Mariner with much of the success he had throughout his career.
While many of the players who filled the roster during Mariner’s tenure in New England have since departed, a core group from those years – including current head coach Jay Heaps and veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis – still remain. Having grown close with Mariner, both are delighted he’s been handed the reins in Toronto after a stint as the club’s Director of Player Development.
“Beyond deserved,” said Heaps, who played under Mariner for his entire six-year tenure. “I always thought that when he was in the front office, I always wanted to see him on the sideline. We had many a conversation about it over the last two years. Whether it was going to be with Toronto or New England or another club, I think Paul always wanted to get onto the sideline. You can see the enthusiasm he has for it.”
“I know that’s something he’s been wanting and hoping for the last couple years is to get his own team and to be in charge of his own team,” said Reis, who also spent six years with Mariner. “I’m excited for him in that regard, but at the same time, we’d definitely like to put it to him, beat him and have a beer and a laugh afterwards.”
Saturday’s game at BMO Field will be Mariner’s home debut after a pair of road matches at Sporting Kansas City (2-0 loss) and Houston Dynamo (3-3 draw), the latter in which TFC built a 3-1 halftime lead before conceding a pair of late goals. Although Toronto has struggled to a 1-10-1 record through the early part of the season, the Revs are expecting to face a revitalized side this weekend under Mariner.
“He brings an excitement and he loves the game,” said Reis. “It’s only going to filter down to the rest of the players. He’s a good person to get behind. I think all the players will want to play for him. For us, that’s dangerous. Someone who can inspire his team and someone who can lead his team is always going to make that team very dangerous and I think he definitely has those qualities.”
In his first two matches Mariner has already experimented with slightly altered formations and different personnel groupings, leaving Heaps in a situation where he’s unsure of what to expect from Toronto tactically. But what Heaps can guarantee is that Mariner will have TFC up for the occasion.
“He lives and dies for his team and I know players buy into that,” Heaps said. “When I played for Paul I always bought into everything he said because you knew it wasn’t coming from a false place; it was coming from an honest place … You’ve already seen the progression in two games to be better than it had been in the past just from a spirit standpoint.”