Wednesday, September 19, 2012

TFC's Ultimatum: Mariner in 2013

Article by Anders Aarhus

According to the Canadian Soccer Blog “The 24th Minute” Toronto FC has decided to retain manager Paul Mariner and Earl Cochrane, who will be given the title of general manager, for the 2013 season.

At first glance the news seems positive. Given the incredibly high turnover rate of managers at TFC it’s nice to see the front office investing in the long-term future of a manager. Coupled with the reported three-year contract extension Mariner signed in May, you can almost believe this is the TFC brass finally giving support to a long-term project.

There’s more. From the same piece: “The two men have also been given an ultimatum – they will be fired if TFC fails to make the playoffs at the end of the 2013 season.” And there it is. So this isn’t a show of confidence after all. Coupled with the fact the contract extension wasn’t made public and the team hasn’t released any information on this new personnel move, we have the same old TFC front office doing absolutely everything wrong.

Whether or not you believe Mariner is the right man to take the club forward (and the majority of TFC fans think he’s not, just read the comments under the original article) it’s most important that the club makes a decision one way or the other. If the front office determines they like Mariner and his vision for the club great, go with it. Sign him to the three-year extension. Hold a press conference. Send out a press release. Make it crystal clear to the fans and the rest of the league that this is your guy and you’ll stand behind him while he tries to rebuild the mess that is TFC right now. Conversely, if you don’t think Mariner is the manager of the future, that’s fine too. Just don’t hand him a contract behind closed doors and then issue a ridiculous ultimatum later. That sends a mixed message to fans and, especially, to the manager himself.

Former TFC Head Coach: Aaron Winter

Worse still, the ultimatum is a fool’s errand. TFC simply doesn’t have the talent on its roster right now to be a playoff team in an increasingly difficult Eastern Conference. Although it’s easier to improve from one year to the next because of MLS’ parity structure, gone are the days where a last-place team can simply gut the roster in the offseason, bring in an entirely new squad and challenge for the MLS Cup the following season. The league is just too deep.

As we’ve seen time and time again the formula in MLS is to install a coach and a GM that understand the unique structure of the league and then be patient. It took Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey time at Real Salt Lake. It took Peter Vermes time in Kansas City. MLS dynasties aren’t born out of nothing; they’re forged through clear, long-term visions, player development and careful, calculated signings. There has to be a larger picture, a consistent plan that determines how the team is built. That’s impossible to achieve in just one or two years at the helm.

Really all this news does is reaffirm what we already know: TFC desperately needs a makeover from the top down. It’s truly sad to look at: a perfect market, a beautiful stadium and facilities, and a fan base that wants to get behind their team, but are starting to jump ship after being let down one too many times. Toronto needs to find a long-term solution or risk losing the season-ticket holders that drive revenue. Because while teams can be rebuilt, fan bases are much harder to regain once lost.