Darren O'Dea

Eventful Weeks Ahead

Photo: A partner for Darren O'Dea at central defence is a priority for Paul Mariner.

Paul Mariner, TFC’s plain spoken manager, just back from a scouting junket to Scandinavia and Cyprus  is on the record as saying he has seven quality MLS players. In an interview with writer Mike Ulmer prior to Monday's season seat holder Town Hall meetings, Mariner outlined where he thinks the rest of his squad will come from and the difference between “Wow’ and “that’s interesting.”

Mike Ulmer: Within MLS, what kind of jump is a move to Toronto for a player?
Paul Mariner: Well, it’s changed over the years. What we do now, psych tests, so many background checks, we need to make sure they can handle this city. This city is a big market and it’s a big ask for a player to come here.

MU: What is it about the city?
PM: There’s a lot of pressure. The media attention is incredible compared to other MLS clubs. It’s LA, New York, and then us. It’s tough on everybody.

MU: What’s a Paul Mariner player?
PM: I think as a goalkeeper I’m looking for someone like Stefan Frei. To me, he’s an ultimate professional. He comes off his line. Good shot stopper. Instills confidence. The back four, the wide guys, have to be attack-minded. The two centre defenders are the pillars on which the team is built. Just rock solid. Don’t go too far; don’t lose the marks too much.

MU: And further up the field?
PM: You need very robust players. You need pace on the outside. Out front you have to keep the ball held up in the middle third and then after that you need to score goals.

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MU: You have said you have seven good MLS players. You need 11 to start but how many do you need to be competitive?
PM: Brutally honest, 14. It’s a very, very hard season. Until you are in it you have no idea. You have to fight through Canadian competition and then the Champions League. If you look at Houston, Kansas City, LA, teams like that, they tend to pick the same players all the time and switch in one or two players periodically. Eventually you will have to call on that 18th player but I think if you’ve got that really strong core group of 14 players you can just get through.

MU: The math is simple. You have seven.
PM: We’ve got some players who really learned on the job last year. Whether they are still here is debatable.

MU: Why?
PM: The salary cap. People have certain contracts where the monies rise to such a degree that it may not be feasible to keep them. You’re always aware of the cap but it’s MLS experience you are looking for. I’ve seen excellent players on my travels who fit the mold who want to be in this league. They understand the ins and outs of the league. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that we could get a few from abroad in but we are looking within the league as well.

MU: Clearly, there is opportunity here.
PM: This is probably the best time to come to Toronto Football Club. I really believe that. The fans are so passionate about the team. Players who come into this team have to have that same passion. They have to dedicate themselves to this club.

MU: How big a piece is Eric Hassli?
PM: Eric’s a difference maker. He’s got to be.

MU: How is Danny Koevermans recovering from his ACL injury?
PM: He’s doing very well. He’s been training for quite some time with the physio but you’ve got to go slow. It’s a big injury. I’m hopeful he’ll be back at the end of April, early May.

MU: How will training camp be different from last year?
PM: Every coach has his idea of how it should be. I want a long pre-season. I want it to be bright and meaningful. We need to get the fitness base down and once we get that it’s going to be football-orientated. Rest assured, the boys are going to be working very, very hard.

MU: Do you want to play more pre-season games?
PM: Yes. I want to build up the minutes. We’ll be playing college teams and obviously we’ll be going to a fantastic tournament in Orlando. That’s going to be terrific. They’ve restructured the tournament so you play Saturday, Wednesday which is perfect. It’s going to be a lot of football. The heart rates will be racing, don’t worry about that.

MU: Are there any ‘Wow’ names on your list?
PM: Because of the salary cap, I’m not going to say they are going to be ‘Wow’ guys. I think they’re going to be “Mmm. Very interesting.” We’re looking to bring (Joao) Plata back. He’s a very young chap, a bit of a fan favorite. A couple of boys we saw in Europe, the fans will like. We need gritty, blue collar players. We have our designated players. We have players with flair. We need that.

MU: Is the single biggest need someone to play alongside Darren O’Dea?
PM: Yes, that’s the guy we need. Darren is a fantastic organizer. He knows exactly what’s required. Great in the dressing room. Great with the young guys. If you look at a back four of Frei,  Richard Eckersley, Darren and Ashtone (Morgan), that’s not bad at all. We just need to add some key components in the middle.

Town Hall meetings will resume on Wednesday, November 21 at 6 p.m. ET. The first of two sessions at that time will be streamed live on TorontoFC.ca.

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