Is ’embarrassing’ the right word for Toronto FC?

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That’s Paul Mariner’s word, not ours.

The Toronto FC boss returns his team to the field tonight against Chicago, TFC having spent the last 11 days on the sidelines. With nine matches left and the Reds out of the playoff picture, it’s easy to ask what TFC’s playing for. Thankfully, somebody from The Toronto Star did just that:

“This is the final push for us,” Mariner told the Star ahead of Wednesday’s match at BMO Field against the Chicago Fire. “I want to win every single game we go into.

“There’s none of this winding down garbage. If anything, we want to ratchet it up because we don’t want to be in this position. It’s embarrassing.

“I completely understand how the fans feel. It’s up to us to put it right.”

That position Mariner’s talking about: Last place in the East with the league’s worst record (five points worse than Philadelphia’s). It’s easy to call that an embarrassment, particularly considering how much money the three Designated Player-team has put into its squad.

Mariner, however, is a big reason I have trouble considering the Reds so embarrassing. Under Aron Winter? Yes. Things were bad, starting the season with nine losses and no clear desire to scrap what wasn’t working.

Since Mariner replaced Winter in June, Toronto has gone 4-7-6. That’s still not good enough for a franchise that desperately needs some post-season play, but it’s a huge turnaround from their record-setting start. It’s also enough to beg questions about what TFC can do in a full season under their new boss.

But when speaking to a fanbase that’s becoming increasingly disillusioned, Mariner needs to be unambiguous. Improvement can’t be the theme, because that was the previous message. And speaking about commitment would only call into question what was going on before.

The theme needs to be awareness – that TFC knows that what’s happening is not acceptable. Calling Toronto’s place ’embarrassing’ may be the perfect way to convey that awareness.