FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Toronto FC head coach Paul Mariner needed just one game to put an end to the Reds five year history of ineptitude at Gillette Stadium.
Mariner, who got his first taste of coaching in MLS as an assistant with the New England Revolution from 2004-09, led Toronto to a 1-0 road win over the Revs in Foxboro on Saturday night, putting an end to TFC’s six game winless run (0-4-2) in New England, dating back to the club joining MLS in 2007.
“Coming to New England is always difficult,” said Mariner. “Sometimes the turf field can get into your head, but I thought the boys matched up incredibly well tonight. It was a bit of an onslaught second half but if you look at the chances we had first half and you look at the chances on the break second half, I’m going to take it.”
Mariner, just 37 days into his tenure as Toronto’s head coach, found the winning strategy to beat the Revs. Relying mostly on sitting back and hitting on the counterattack, Toronto took advantage of an early injury that forced the Revs to shake up their defense with Shalrie Joseph replacing Stephen McCarthy and grabbed an eighth minute goal through rookie Luis Silva in the confusion.
And while Toronto’s defense managed to keep the Revs mostly quiet, had Ryan Johnson done better with his two gilt-edged chances created by precision TFC counterattacks, the Reds could’ve been much more comfortable in their win.
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat … We started off 4-4-2, and then we went to 4-5-1 then later on we just had to try and stem the tide a little bit so we went back to 4-4-2,” said Mariner. “New England were pressing and pressing, and had some chances. (Milos Kocic) made a couple of great saves for us, but having said that, we could have had more goals on the break.
“You see it in world football all over. (Jose) Mourinho did it with Inter (Milan) and you know how that went so why can’t we do it,” continued Mariner, referencing Italian club Inter Milan’s run in winning the 2009–10 UEFA Champions League. Inter used a counterattacking strategy superbly to beat heavily favored FC Barcelona in the semifinals under the guidance of legendary head coach Jose Mourinho.
While the Revs are certainly no Barcelona – and Toronto’s no Inter Milan – the sizable advantages in possession (65.5%) and passing accuracy (78.6% compared to 60.8% for TFC) held by the Revs weren’t too dissimilar – though not quite as pronounced – from the edge Barcelona generally holds over opponents and held in their two-leg loss to Inter.
That Toronto was able to succeed with their counterattacking game plan by silencing New England – a team that had scored at least two goals in seven of their last eight games – with a starting defense whose ages ranged from 19 to 24, made the win even more impressive.
“If you look at the back four, the average age of the back four is what 21, 22 – quite remarkable,” said Mariner. “They’re learning on the job and they’re learning very quick. I thought the screen in front was fantastic. A couple of boys thrown right into the deep end tonight, Aaron Maund and Andrew Wiedeman came in and did great shifts, so it bodes well for us.”
The win continued Toronto’s remarkable turnaround under Mariner. Despite a hectic schedule the past month with nine games in just 28 days, the club is 3-2-4 – a record that also includes a 2-2 draw with the Revs in Toronto – since the former English International took over as head coach. The Canadian club had started the season a dismal 1-9-0 under former head coach Aron Winter. Toronto has also scored 14 goals in Mariner’s nine games in charge after scoring just eight in their first ten.
The transformation – at least on the offensive end – might not come as much of a surprise to followers of the Revolution. Mariner, whose playing career as a striker included successful stints at Arsenal, Ipswich and Plymouth, was a big part of the Revs coaching staff when the team had one of the better offenses in MLS in the mid-2000s.
But while Mariner may have advanced his trade in his over five years with New England – and says he still follows the club’s progress – on Saturday, he was excited for his Toronto side to emerge victories at the Revs expense.
“For me to come back and get a win is a wonderful thing,” said Mariner. “Obviously I feel sorry for (Revs head coach) Jay (Heaps) because his team was going in the right direction, and still will go in the right direction. But the memories I’ve got of this football club and the people around this football club are well documented. I had a wonderful time with Mr. (Robert) Kraft, and Jonathan (Kraft), and Sunil (Gulati). I always look for the (Revs) results, but when we play Toronto I obviously want Toronto to win.”