Debunking the myth that Mariner hasn't had time to build "his" team

Paul Mariner, shown here without tape on his glasses, shouts instruction to one of his players. "His Players" being the key phrase. Did he inherit a team that he wouldn't have otherwise picked on his own?

Have you heard the one about how Paul Mariner should be given more time to develop TFC into his own vision because he didn't have any say in player acquisition while working with Aron Winter?

Yeah, it's a bad joke.

I'm going to set aside the question as to whether he should be given more time. Partly because it is a full debate on its own and partly because until there is a new leader of TFC it makes little sense to discuss whether this seventh coach should be fired. No one has the stomach for another change for the sake of it and until a vision is set and a new leader determines who he wants to coach this team, Mariner's tenure with the club really isn't a fruitful discussion.

But I did want to discuss whether the notion that his hands were tied under Winter really holds any weight.

In an interview with Kurtis Larson, he remarked "As the director of player development you can only do so much. I had no say on team selection, no say on formations and no say on anything to do with the field. Now we're going to start to move."

Of course, much of that is true. Aron Winter was the man with the responsibility and it was he that set formations, selected players for the first team and adjusted to game conditions on the pitch. However, are we to believe that he really didn't approve of, nor sign any player of his own volition when working for Winter?

On the surface, I find the argument convenient and self serving. It has the appearance of trying to create distance between the previous coach in an effort to buy time. Time, like a price break on tickets, is something this organization doesn't seem to be willing to give.

Mariner was hired and cashed his pay cheques under the expectation that he would identify and acquire players. Said then VP and COO Tom Anselmi at the time of the management team announcement in January of 2011, "Aron will oversee our entire soccer operation and set the soccer direction of Toronto FC. Paul will be responsible for our club's scouting, player acquisition, player development and our Academy." Seems pretty clear to me what his role was. Of course, there are those that will say that Aron didn't let him do his job but the truth is we are getting each sides' interpretation and each camp has a vested interest in spinning the story to suit its agenda.

Winter may have had final say but clearly Mariner had influence. That's what he was hired for and supposedly what earned him a 3 year contract extension. He had to be doing something, didn't he? How much influence is a matter of debate and unless you were behind closed doors there is no way to know what really went on. While we may have the spin from both camps which makes it hard to evaluate, we do have something else, the roster itself.

When the year began 2012, Winter's starting eleven often included the following players:

Position

Player

Acquired By

Mariner's Guy?

GK

Kocic

Preki

Yes

Defender

Eckersely

Winter

Yes

Defender

Cann

Preki

No

Defender

Morgan

Academy

Yes

Defender

Henry

Academy

Yes

Midfield

Frings

Winter

Yes

Midfield

JDG

Johnston

No

Midfield

Avila

Winter

No

Forward

Plata/Soolsma

Superdraft/Winter

No

Forward

Koevermans

Winter

Yes

Forward

Johnson

Winter

Yes

Why the last column? One could argue that either coach could have selected/favoured these players. For example, Eckersley (or his agent) was rumoured to have followed Mariner overseas and was a focal point of Mariner's contract negotiations in the offseason. We can also theorize that when Mariner offered both Morgan and Henry extensions this year after taking the reigns of the club, that he was in agreement with their talent assessment under Winter. With respect to Frings and Koevermans, its clear that their quality should be acceptable by either coach.

If you make those assumptions, Winter's starting 11 includes 4 roster spots that Mariner may not have picked on his own. Those being the Plata/Soolsma platoon, JDG, Avila and Cann. Players that are now no longer with the team or simply aren't playing.

Post transfer and Koevermans-Frings injury window, this is how the starting eleven shakes up:

Position

Player

Acquired By

Mariner's Guy

GK

Hall/Kocic

Mariner

Yes

Defender

Eckersely

Winter

Yes

Defender

O'Dea

Mariner

Yes

Defender

Morgan

Academy

Yes

Defender

Henry

Academy

Yes

Midfield

Johnson

Winter

Yes

Midfield

Dunfield

Winter

Yes

Midfield

Silva

Superdraft

Yes

Midfield

Weidemen

Mariner

Yes

Forward

Hassli

Mariner

Yes

Forward

Amarikwa

Mariner

Yes

What could be considered a weird stat is that Mariner's record prior to the transfer window was 4-2-4. After putting "his stamp" on the team, the post transfer record is 0-6-2. Clearly, key injuries and tougher competition have influenced that as much as the selection of players to the starting eleven but it is an odd stat.

While the players may be his, it's fair to ask about quality. Neither Mariner nor your humble author would suggest that this is a roster of the highest possible quality. Some of these players that Mariner brought in are here because they were likely all that was available. This is a roster that is dependent on the Academy for both depth and assets. The Academy is barely two years old and this is huge burden of expectations to heap upon its shoulders. Further, when MLS roster rules state that Canadian players count as Internationals in the USA, you can understand why just 9 beaver-loving soccer players find employment with the 16 US based MLS clubs. It makes trading that much more difficult and unlikely.

Compounded with TFC's tendency to trade Superdraft picks away and it is clear why quality is an issue. US players are either acquired in like for like trades, at a heavy cost of mortgaging the future or become available as castoffs through the waiver process. Combined with a less than robust International scouting presence and there you have it. All valid reasons though I do find it a little ironic that someone hired and extended for his rumoured talents in scouting, player acquisition and development has folks rushing to defend the lack of quality on the squad.

Either or, while this may not be the quality that Mariner had hoped for, it is clearly a roster that is full of his influence. As for the notion that he should be given slack because these are not his players, well that's full of something else.

Follow me on twitter @Gardnerfanfuel and all of us here @Wakingthered

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