mariner-paul110106cp

Paul Mariner, far left, was named Toronto FC's director of player development in January. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

These are tough times for Toronto FC.

An embarrassing 6-2 home loss to the Philadelphia Union last weekend saw the Reds extend their winless streak to four games and their record drop to 2-5-6.

TFC's woes were further compounded on Tuesday when starting central defender Adrian Cann suffered a knee injury in practice that will rule him out for the remainder of the Major League Soccer regular season.

All of this on the heels of a string of inconsistent performances on the field from a team struggling to adapt to new coach Aron Winter's 4-3-3 formation, and the possession and passing style preached by the Dutchman.

Although Paul Mariner, TFC's director of player development, believes that the Reds aren't quite where he expected them to be after 13 games, he does think the team is making progress.

"You can see that it's a very technical system we're playing in. You have to be a thinking man's [player] with the way that you have to play positionally with the three in midfield. It's challenging for the players. The coaches are working extremely hard to put everything together but it's like a classroom: sometimes people get it quick, sometimes they don't," Mariner said in an interview with CBCSports.ca.

"It's a question of staying with it and hope that it gets better as the season progresses … we're moving along, maybe not as quick as we'd all like to, but were moving along."

The point has been raised many times that maybe Winter's Dutch-influenced system is too ambitious for TFC. Mariner disagrees, and maintains the team will stay the tactical course charted out by Winter.

"I personally don't think it is [too ambitious for TFC]," opined Mariner. "I think you have to be wide open all the time to new information and new ways of doing things."

One thing Mariner does concede is that the club does not have all the right pieces to play within Winter's tactical approach. To that end, he has been actively working the phones to try to add new players to roster.

His top priorities? Signing a defender and getting a goal-scorer.

"It's obvious now that we're looking for a central defender because we are very thin at the back. I think we're missing [injured forward] Alan Gordon, to be perfectly frank. We didn't think he would be out so long. He's a good leader off the field as well as on the field. [Captain] Maicon Santos has done a great job, in so far as his goal scoring. He's a different kind of player compared to Gordon," said Mariner.

Mariner added: "I just want to reassure [the fans] we are being very diligent on what we are doing and trying to improve the team."

Mariner said he is "scouring the world for a goal scorer," but insists it will take time.

"It's relatively easy to go out and find [a forward]. But is he going to fit into our system and our dressing room? There are a lot of components that go into getting the right player and building the right team. So we're looking," explained Mariner.

"You have to be diligent. We're not just going to get anybody in here. We're not going to waste money and waste everybody's time. It has to be the right fit."

Both Winter and Mariner have made it a point to ask for fan patience throughout season, repeatedly reminding their long-suffering supporters that the club is rebuilding and it will take time to get things right on the field.

Still, fans are eager for success now, especially after enduring four seasons without a single playoff berth from the Reds, and they have begun to ask whether or not rebuilding and being competitive are mutually exclusive?

Although he stopped short of guaranteeing a post-season berth this year, Mariner believes you can achieve both objectives at the same time.

"We're 13 games into the season. We still have a lot of games to play. Last Saturday may be a kick up the backside that everybody needed because we have to roll our sleeves up and show commitment on the field," stated Mariner.

"I would like to think you could put a competitive team on the field [while rebuilding].  Because let's face it, there is a lot of parity in MLS."