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Mariner and Cochrane: Playoffs or Bust.

Ma-ri-ner! clap, clap, clap. Ma-ri-ner! clap, clap clap. No-one's joining in? no? fine then.
Ma-ri-ner! clap, clap, clap. Ma-ri-ner! clap, clap clap. No-one's joining in? no? fine then.

As reported by Duane Rollins over at CSN today, they've confirmed that Paul Mariner will definitely be back in charge for 2013 as coach and manager with final say on player signings. Also Earl Cochrane will be given the job of general manager, dealing with salary cap issues and other vague league specific issues. Here's the kicker though, there's apparently an ultimatum that they'll be fired if they don't make the playoffs in 2013!

Where to start with this one, where to start? How about the beginning. Mariner back next year. I'll say that's a good thing at this stage. I don't like how he got to his position, I don't trust him and I'm growing less and less impressed with his coaching and man management skills. But I don't see any benefit to firing another coach at this stage, if only for the 'who the hell would take the job if we did that' argument. So, kind of reluctantly I'll say yes give him time, and I genuinely hope he proves me wrong.

Earl Cochrane? Well that was depressingly inevitable really given it's MLSE where Tom Anselmi can get promoted (was it Tom who made these decisions, I presume so, who else?). Is this a change in any way to his previous job, perhaps taking on some of Anselmi's responsibilities, or just a rebranding? As of yet we don't know, but it's remarkable how he keeps on surviving and moving on up.

So far, it's a fairly blatant rewarding of mediocrity and the ability to play MLSE politics, inevitable and depressing but pretty much unavoidable without blowing the whole thing up, which was never going to happen no matter how much we might want it to. I guess we have to swallow it and see what happens. What makes it more interesting than just a confirmation of what we all knew, and some feared, was going to happen is that ultimatum. Finally some accountability, a potential light at the end of the tunnel. I don't like it.

What I don't like about it comes down to a couple of things (well, 3 actually, the fact that the playoffs is held up as some kind of grand achievement is depressing, but that's merely an aside), 1) if you're going to give him time, give him proper time, don't set such short term arbitrary targets, and 2) unintended consequences.

Accountability and a clearly defined goal isn't a bad thing by any means, but I hope there ends up being a lot more flexibility than this report suggests. There can be success and progress without making the playoffs next year. The Eastern Conference, despite pre season thoughts, has plenty of good teams in it. If things are going in the right direction, I wouldn't want plans to be cast aside merely for finishing 6th, maybe because of injuries or other things out of Mariner's control, perhaps we miss out on goal difference, maybe from a blown call. Shit happens, especially with MLS refs, let's not make the definition of success so arbitrary and the consequences of failure even worse than they need to be.

The main reason why that would be a bad thing is the unintended consequences, by which I mean the decisions this could lead to. Would such a clear ultimatum laid out for all the world to know (I'm on the fence about whether they'd have preferred this kept secret or not), encourage anyone to plan carefully for the future, weighing the long term and short term benefits, or is it demanding that you do whatever you need to do to get the job done now?

I'd like to hope Mariner would put such concerns to one side, but the panic buy of Eric Hassli for a 2014 1st round pick when Danny koevermans went down injured in a season that was already long gone doesn't inspire confidence. Hopefully he'll have the confidence to think, 'damn right I'll be here in 2014, I can't screw future me over like that' and he doesn't seem to lack confidence so I think at least he'll start that way. But what if TFC starts poorly, or enters it's traditional summer swoon and things start looking dodgy or a key player goes down injured? Would he stick with the plan, even if it means missing the playoffs again? Maybe. Will he stick with it if it means losing his job? I'd say it's human nature that the chance goes down. After all why get yourself fired to keep draft picks or young players you'll never get to use while some other guy steals the glory your patience brought.

A rumour came out earlier in the week that TFC might be trading it's 2013 1st round pick, likely first overall, for Sam Cronin. This wouldn't be the world's worst idea, Cronin's young enough to potentially contribute for a long time, but overall I'd say it wouldn't be worth it. He's a decent MLS player for sure, but is that worth the chance of the impact player a first overall pick could bring. I'd say no, but if competing right away, in 2013, was now my newly stated most important goal, I'd be a lot more likely to do it.

I'm by no means saying sit back and let him have a 5 year plan (though it's no coincidence TFC's best ever season came in 2009 after 3 years of progressing (haphazardly, it was Mo Johnston at the helm after all) along the same plan, and that every subsequent rebuild that wasn't allowed to finish has set us further back), there should be goals and standards in place. I just don't want such an arbitrary target set in stone, there could be progress worth sticking to even if we don't finish in the top 5 next year, this just seems like setting ourselves up for failure and an 8th coach for season 8.

Of course without the specific goal, the question becomes what exactly is deemed good enough, and just who is deciding that in October of next year? Is 6th place enough, how about 7th, or 8th if suffering through bad injuries? Is getting close good enough, or merely the low bar of showing improvement over this year?

Back in 2011 when the unholy managerial alliance of Aron Winter Paul Mariner and Bob de Klerk (by the way, what's his role going forward?)was announced, TFC talked about doing things differently, of sticking with a plan. Despite an improving first year, a CCL semi final berth and a 4th Voyageurs Cup, a 1-9 start was enough to toss that out. Now TFC have backed themselves into the corner of maybe having to abort another managerial team if progress isn't quite as quick as they hoped, and have also encouraged, nay demanded that that team focus more on the short term than the long term. Maybe it'll work. Let's hope so, if it doesn't, 2014's coach is going to have a hell of a job on his hands.