It’s long been all about next year for Toronto FC, and there was precious little in Saturday’s home finale against the Montreal Impact to take away from that narrative.
By far the most intriguing part of the weekend for Reds fans was the report by Ives Galarcep that Orlando City coach Adrian Heath is in talks with TFC to join the team for 2013 as an assistant coach under Paul Mariner.
As of writing it’s still unknown if Heath is Toronto bound, but it’s a good sign that the Reds are looking to improve its coaching staff. Heath has enjoyed plenty of success in Orlando, guiding them to two consecutive finishes at the top of the USL pro regular season standings, winning the playoffs in 2011, and making the semifinals in 2012. North American experience is a very good thing, and his contacts and extensive knowledge of the teams in that league could come in handy for TFC as well.
Let’s face it, there aren’t many players on the current roster who’d make good trade bait, so the opportunities to improve the squad from within MLS are probably quite small. Free agent signings will probably be relied upon to build the squad and Heath’s contacts could bring in some cheap but reliable depth players, in a similar way to how Martin Rennie brought players from the Carolina RailHawks to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
So whether it comes to pass or not, the mere fact Toronto is looking in this direction is a good sign, but there are a few things about this that make you wonder if the same old TFC dysfunction is once again rearing its head.
First, is this just putting a plan B in place in case there’s another slow start to the season? There are reports out there that Mariner would be fired if TFC fail to make the playoffs. If they struggle early, it’s a lot easier to make a quick reactionary move if there’s a replacement already lined up and ready to take over. With all due respect to his years at the club, current assistant coach Jim Brennan isn’t that man. Heath would be.
In a well run club with strong personalities and a clear delineation of who’s in charge, having a skilled, qualified and experienced assistant can be a tremendous asset, but does that sound like TFC to you? Me neither.
The other question is why now, and who exactly is trying to hire him? Top of most fans’ off-season wish list would be an experienced person brought in as a general manager, or club president, to oversee everything; someone who can put in place a long term plan and carry on with that vision through short term bumps in the road. Coaches are hired to be fired, but the firing of both Preki and Aron Winter led to drastic changes to the plan, and there’s been no sense of continuity that having someone at the head of the organisation would bring.
If they are planning to hire someone a president, it would surely be best to wait until that man is in charge before filling in the positions below him, rather than saddling him with other people’s choices. Would hiring an assistant coach now increase the need to find someone for that position who fits in with the management team he’ll inherit, rather than getting the best man for the job and allowing him to decide on his own coaching staff? Would this be an example of the tail wagging the dog, or the cart being put before the horse? Pick your animal metaphor, they both apply.
For better or worse, Mariner is very much in that coaching pressure cooker, and good results will have to come quickly next season. Without someone above him with the job security and calm to do what’s best for the long term of the club, that could lead to bad decisions made for short term benefit. And what if the worst case scenario happens, and the team once again struggles, necessitating Mariner’s release? Is his replacement, whether Adrian Heath or someone else, now all of a sudden, in charge of everything?
Bringing in Heath or someone like him, a successful coach from further down the soccer pyramid would be a good thing, the sort of sensible unsexy decision the club has often sorely lacked.
However, the timing of it, before the more important hiring higher up, if that is even going to happen, can’t help but ring alarm bells that dysfunction and instability are going to continue being very much a part of the club in 2013.
Duncan Fletcher is a Toronto-based writer and key contributor to Waking the Red, a blog about Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. Follow Duncan on Twitter.