Let Them Play

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If Paul Mariner wants players to play for their jobs next year, shouldn't he let them play?

Can we all be grown ups here and admit that this season means nothing? Most reasonable people would agree that when a season is done, it is best to look to next year. Shed veteran players and recover assets. Evaluate what you have in the system and go into the offseason with a clear idea of what you have and what you need. Many of us were admitting that back in June.

Paul Mariner talks like he gets it. Prior to the DC United game this weekend, Mariner said "I want to see (which players) want to be here next year. It's very, very simple ... "

Sounds great. But just one question, if you want to see which players want to be here, why don't you play them all? Simple isn't it? Ok, so that was two questions. You see, I get really tired of hearing that players are playing for their jobs when it is the same players playing virtually every game and opportunities to evaluate our bench go unused.

Last time I checked, MLS rules allow 3 substitutions per game. In a season that is a write off, why not use them all if you are trying to see which players want to be here? In the last 6 games, Mariner has made 11 of 18 available substitutions. Leaving 7 unused opportunities for a player to show they want to be here.

As far as distributing minutes, his roster appears to be written in permanent marker. Don't believe me?

I took a look at total minutes and while it showed the usual things, I also realized that it didn't tell the whole picture. Players are sometimes not selected at all, others times they are injured, away on international duty, etc. Total minutes therefore is a variable but not the only one. So, I took a look at minutes played but in the context of the total available minutes for each player. Total available minutes reflects the total minutes in all games (for example, for those who've been here all year, 22 in MLS under Mariner, so 1980) less minutes that a player was left off the roster.

Essentially, when they dressed, how often did they make it to the pitch? Here is how Mariner distributes those minutes to his top core:

Player

Minutes Played

Minutes Left Off Roster

Total Minutes Possible

% of Available Minutes Played

Johnson

1710

180

1890

100.0%

Eckersley

1845

45

1890

100.0%

Dunfield

1676

180

1890

98.0%

Hassli

491

450

990

90.9%

Morgan

1462

270

1890

90.2%

O'Dea

630

180

900

87.5%

Hall

1233

360

1890

80.6%

Emory

1237

270

1890

76.4%

Silva

1324

90

1890

73.6%

These are the players that form the middle of the pack:

Player

Minutes Played

Minutes Left Off Roster

Total Minutes Possible

% of Available Minutes Played

Lambe

963

450

1890

66.9%

Henry

790

630

1890

62.7%

Amerikwa

515

990

52.0%

Weideman

583

1170

49.8%

Maund

675

180

1890

39.5%

Avila

726

1890

38.4%

And here are the players whose suitcases appear to be already packed:

Player

Minutes Played

Minutes Left Off Roster

Total Minutes Possible

% of Available Minutes Played

Cann

136

990

1890

15.1%

Williams

86

900

1890

8.7%

Stinson

21

990

1890

2.3%

Makubaya

0

1710

1890

0.0%

Cordon

0

1710

1890

0.0%

Lindsay

0

1890

1890

0.0%

Dicoy Williams, good enough for Jamaica's national team but not for Toronto FC? Not to mention the plight of Avila and Cann, experienced MLS players who, if they don't factor into Mariner's plans, have been given next to no opportunity to showcase what they can do for other teams. Generally speaking, when teams trade, they try to get return value for a player and it helps to have other team's scouts evaluate that player. Teams that get it will tend to showcase players that they are thinking of moving. In hockey, a struggling winger might get a turn on the top line. Or a defenseman might get minutes on the power play. It seems to be a better idea than burying them on the bench. Just saying.

Beyond the impact to Cann, Williams and Avila, what of our youth? Looking at this, isn't the man hired to oversee scouting, acquisition and development wasting an opportunity to allow some of the younger, namely Academy players, to gain experience?

One of the glaring weaknesses of the Academy model is that graduates who are not quite ready for MLS action have difficulty finding games to play in against better competition. In a season that doesn't matter anymore, what would be the harm in letting them gain experience? Mariner had no issue playing them in the Liverpool game in front of thousands, why not play them against MLS competition in front of hundreds?

Beyond the experience question, what message does this send to aspiring players that the club is asking to forgo a college education? I'm not a big believer in the Academy model as the lone savior for this club for reasons outlined in a previous article. That said, it is part of the solution to player acquisition and asset development, or at least it could be if it is managed properly.

TFC already has a Canadian nightmare on its hands with respect to treatment of national players. You think Dwayne de Rosario and Julian de Guzman speak highly of the club when they gather with their National Team teammates? Recruitment this offseason should end well, eh? Do we really want to sour young kids and their parents on the future too?

Play the kids. Play the vets. Play anyone who breathes an ounce of pride for the crest. What is there to lose? Aside from 9 of the last 12 games.

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