Mariner debuts as TFC takes on Sporting Kansas City
Toronto FC players say the first week under their new coach has brought some much-needed changes.
Now, the club is hoping to improve on its woeful record.
In Paul Mariner's debut, last-place Toronto will try to build off the end to a nine-game MLS losing streak Saturday night when it returns from a lengthy break at Sporting Kansas City.
While the team was on hiatus from league play, Aron Winter stepped down as coach and technical director on June 7. He was quickly replaced by the team's director of player development, Mariner.
The 59-year-old British native was a former member of New England's staff and led English Championship division club Plymouth Argyle from December 2009-May 2010.
Mariner's first task is rallying Toronto (1-9-0) from its miserable start. The club's 0-9-0 start set a new low for the league before Toronto edged Philadelphia 1-0 on May 26 in Winter's final game.
During Mariner's first full week in charge on the pitch, there have been hints at a change in formation but the most significant one might be a new mentality.
"Everyone's happy. Everyone's focused. There's a new energy with us and a new mindset during this week. It's coming along well," midfielder Eric Avila said.
A win over Sporting KC (8-3-1) might help that attitude even more, but that club is also intent on building on the end to a lackluster stretch.
Kansas City was 0-3-1 before a 2-1 home win over San Jose on May 27. That winless skid had followed a 7-0-0 start, the best in the league since Los Angeles won 12 straight to begin its 1996 season.
"As we head into this week's game against Toronto, we're looking to pick up where we left off," assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin said.
Kei Kamara scored the deciding goal in last month's victory but his status is unknown because of international duty for Sierra Leone. Kamara has a team-best five goals, and he scored two in the first 33 minutes of a 4-2 home win over Toronto on July 23.
Jacob Peterson could fill in for Kamara in this game after doing so in a 2-0 win in U.S. Open Cup play over Colorado on June 5, and Sporting KC will also need to find a replacement for central defender Matt Besler, who is out following an emergency appendectomy June 8.
"I'm going to work hard at whatever he asks me to do," Peterson told the league's website. "It's all of our jobs to make it a tough decision for Pete, all those guys who are on the bench and who are fighting to get into the 18. If we do that, it's healthy competition."
Sporting KC 2-0-2 in its last four games against Toronto and earned both those wins at home, where it is 4-1-1 all-time in this series.