Photo: Paul Mariner on the touchline with assistants Stewart Kerr, Jason Bent & Jim Brennan (Getty)
TORONTO – Toronto FC head coach Paul Mariner knows what it was like to play Liverpool at Anfield in their glory years.
So when the Premier League squad plays Toronto FC in the World Football Challenge on Saturday at Rogers Centre, it will stir some vivid memories for the former England international, who often found himself surrounded by the club’s players when suiting up for the Three Lions.
“The legacy of the Liverpool team is as good as anything,” Mariner said after TFC defeated the Colorado Rapids 2-1 on Wednesday for their third straight victory. “And the cathedral Anfield, I’ve played there many times. It’s an unbelievable place to play. The fans are so smart. They give you a round of applause even if you’ve beaten them.
“So to play against Liverpool on Saturday at Rogers in front of such a large crowd, your adrenalin’s going to be flowing anyhow. It’s a great honour to play against them and we want to try and give a good account of ourselves, but we have to be cognizant of the Houston game [on July 28], which is coming up quick.”
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The match against Liverpool comes after Toronto have played 10 times since June 16 under Mariner, who took over from Aron Winter, going 4-2-4. Needless to say, the busy schedule has taken its toll.
“If I’m brutally honest, it couldn’t come at a worse time,” Mariner said, “because I have some sore young men in there ... beaten up a little bit. But it’s Liverpool, you know.”
Complicating matters, injuries already left Toronto with a young and inexperienced bench for Wednesday’s league match.
“When you can see how thin we are, I don’t mean talent-wise, but as far as the age of the bench, it’s almost a kids’ team,” Mariner said. “So it gives you a good opportunity to look at players. I always think that whenever you play games, you learn something from games. So some of the youngsters are going to get a real nice treat on Saturday.”
Forward Ryan Johnson who has played every minute of every game this season for Toronto, as well as representing Jamaica, said he could certainly use the rest.
“I don’t know, maybe I will talk with Paul about how much I’ll play,” he said. “I’m sure I will only play a half at the most. We’ll see. I kind of want to take it off, but at the same time it’s an opportunity to play against guys you watch on TV every weekend.”