TORONTO — Things have definitely changed for the better at Toronto FC under new coach Paul Mariner.
One of the most notable differences from the Aron Winter regime is the relentless work-rate displayed by the players. And one of the key components of this drive is Terry Dunfield, who has started every game under the Englishman.
"Paul came in and it was like a breath of fresh air," Dunfield told sportsnet.ca.
The midfielder noted that Winter’s dismissal is one the players were all accountable for, and that there was no foul play in Mariner’s appointment.
"He was definitely behind (Aron Winter) in what he wanted to do, there were no knives in his back," Dunfield stated.
What targets did the new manager set on his appointment?
"Paul doesn’t really need to say anything. We’re just taking it game-by-game. We knew we had to get to the Colorado game and then we’d have a ten day break in the league."
There is a lot more freedom for the Canadian international since moving from Winter’s 4-3-3 into Mariner’s 4-4-2 system.
"Under Paul I’m able to go both ways a little bit more and make my opponent worry about chasing me. It’s always great getting forward and trying to score or set things up," Dunfield explained.
With the players working harder for each other on the pitch, a real team spirit seems to be building at the club. A heavy schedule has seen the squad spending a lot of time with each other a lot recently.
"Battling on the road has really brought us together and picking up points only helps you believe in what Paul’s trying to do," Dunfield said.
One player Dunfield has grown particularly close to over the past year is top-scorer Danny Koevermans, who recently suffered an ACL injury that has ruled him out for the rest of the season.
Dunfield will be a good friend for the Dutchman to be around, as the mid-part of his career saw him out of competitive action for two-and-a-half years and working in a factory to make ends meet.
"I’m absolutely gutted what happened to him in New England. It’s a huge loss to the league and the club," Dunfield said.
After reports of homesickness, Joao Plata was sent on loan back to LDU Quito. However, Dunfield revealed it was a little more than Plata just missing Ecuador.
"Last season he was very comfortable and he was one of the first names on the team-sheet. This year under Aron he was in and out of the team a bit, Paul’s took over and he wasn’t in the team for the first couple of games. I don’t think he was prepared to battle for a spot," Dunfield said.
"The club felt it would be best for his development to go out on loan and hopefully he’ll come back next season prepared to work."
Mariner’s brief spell has also seen the exit of the club’s first designated player, Julian de Guzman.
"It’s never easy taking on the mantel of designated player, and I think Julian received some, at times, unfair criticism, but that comes with being a designated player. Now that spots opened up, I’ve got my eye on it," he joked.
As for Dunfield’s own plans, he has his eye on helping the Canadian squad in their bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and to continue plugging away in Toronto’s midfield. He wants his career to go beyond playing though.
"I’ve got all my (coaching) badges now. There was an opportunity to coach in the academy, but it’s difficult with so many games in our schedule," Dunfield said.
"Soccer is my life and when I hang up my boots — for sure — I want to stay in the game."
Daniel Rouse is a columnist and podcaster for Red Nation Online, and a short story writer. He moved from England in 2011. Follow him on Twitter.