TORONTO – It was good to be back on the training pitch.
Toronto FC began their preparations for the 2021 season last week, under the watchful eye of new head coach Chris Armas and his staff at the BMO Training Ground.
Armas wasted little time putting his vision in front of the squad – something he detailed at his introductory press conference last month.
In the oasis of green inside the bubble, surrounded by ramparts of snow, a new year began.
“It was a lot of fun watching these players,” smiled Armas, presumably, under his mask. “Alejandro [Pozuelo], Michael Bradley, [Jonathan] Osorio, these guys can play in tight spaces, they can process information quickly, they can make good decisions, and they're also willing to play against the ball.”
“In possession, we would talk about, first and foremost, trying to play forward, trying to play with tempo, trying to break lines, and also taking advantage of our ability in that same organizational structure,” he elaborated. “Taking advantage of our intelligence and having guys rotate, some fluidity, some good habits of movement to move the opposition. And you combine the movement and the intelligence with an ability to play fast and forward, and then have it built in where we can play in the opposition's half by pinning teams in and take advantage of some counter pressing.”
“Can we overwhelm opponents and score goals?” Armas tasked. “In a nutshell that’s what it is and I can see that there's a real excitement to what we did out there today and where the vision is going to take us.”
It’s always a bonus to start on the right foot.
“It was an awesome first day, in every way,” summed up Bradley afterwards. “Chris and his staff laid everything out in a really good way beforehand, talking to the group in general ways about what we want to be, the mentality, the way that we deal with each other on a daily basis, everything.”
“And then that obviously moved into a discussion more about football detail, who we are, what we've been, what we want to be, what we want to look like on the biggest days,” he continued. “It was an exciting first day because we hit the ground running.”
“In certain moments, for different reasons, you can have preseasons that are a little bit of a slow roll, but we got right to it today and Chris set a really good tone from the first word, from the first whistle,” added Bradley. “Looking around you can see the excitement on guys faces and we had a really good first session. It's great to get going, now we need the days to build up and accumulate in good ways, now we start to get some fitness and start to build in all those ways, but it was a really good start.”
A defensive midfielder in his playing days, Armas brings that same tenacity to the sidelines.
“Yeah, there's energy, he’s engaging, he's pushing the session and pushing guys to do things quicker, to see things faster, to react, to step to plays, to go after the ball,” described Bradley. “He's certainly not somebody who is just sitting back on the sideline and watching from a distance. He's right in the middle of things.”
“He has a clear idea of what he wants from training, what he wants from each guy,” he added. “He's going to be making sure that the whole thing gets pushed in a way that he wants and ultimately, his vision of the team and his vision of how we play is coming out.”
With big games fast approaching – the 2020 Canadian Championship Final against Forge FC with a spot in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League in the balance – the pressure is on.
Armas relishes it.
“My kids, who are getting older – 16 and 19, two boys – they say, ‘Dad, the pressure of a big club, the first game is going to be for a trophy, doesn't this scare you?’” relayed the coach. “And I said, ‘No chance.’”
“My kids know that I am a competitor, I've been part of finals, lifting trophies. And those pressure situations, when you're a coach and a player, that's what you want to be in. Those are the games you sign up for,” he levelled. “When you're in your backyard playing, it's always the pressure spot: you step up for the penalty, here he is, it’s the fifth shooter, if he scores.... You want that pressure. That's what I was dreaming about.”
“Then it becomes about the work, making sure that we prepare properly in every little way, the players and game-planning and understanding the opposition. It's all about the work,” Armas continued. “You work, and you work, and you work, and that takes you to the game, and then you go after it. And that's what we'll do. We will attack. We will go after it as a staff and as an organization and the players. That's what every day is going to be about.”