The Terry Dunfield era begins on Saturday.
Toronto FC will face Real Salt Lake at BMO Field this weekend with a new face at the helm.
“We feel confident,” said Dunfield on Friday afternoon. “It's been a fantastic week.”
“At the end of training, we brought the group together and I thanked the boys for their hard work. It was a pretty cool feeling,” he recounted. “Afterwards, Victor Vázquez said some pretty powerful words: ‘We have 14 games to go. We're going to go enjoy it. We're clear, but we're going to get after it.’”
With the new voice in the room has come a new vibe. One can feel it around the training ground.
“Everyone has come in with a positive mindset, a good mindset,” said Kosi Thompson. “We want to prove something to the league, to the fans, and to ourselves, really show everyone that we are a good team. Everyone has been on the same page that we need to come out and get three points.”
Having taken over from Bob Bradley on Monday, time to prepare for the weekend has been limited.
“We've only had four days,” replied Dunfield, asked if his tactical identity has been imprinted on the group yet. “We had to be careful of cognitive overload and doing too much, but the players really craved an idea of what we're going to do with the ball and without it.”
“Everything we did this week was shared, the long division was shared with the players: this is why we did this in training,” he continued. “Our evidence-based learning cycle should play out nicely, it should be in their working memory, and hopefully the work we've done this week, we can continue to scaffold and build upon.”
There is a renewed energy in the group. It was evident in the actions on the training pitch.
“It does a lot,” said Thompson of that rising level. “Everyone's high-spirited, everyone's energetic. There's been sessions where the energy has been brought down and ultimately the football has come down with that.”
“Some of the non-negotiables are just having a positive mindset, high energy,” he added. “If we have those standards where they need to be then the football is going to come with it.”
It’s a reset, both tactically and in terms of roles.
“Terry not trying to complicate things. It's very simple,” said Thompson of the ideas the side has worked on in week one. “That is a very good starting basis coming in as a new coach, especially midway through the season. As a team, us coming back to the basics is going to be very helpful.”
“That is how it should feel throughout the whole year, the whole season,” he added about the hierarchy of starters and substitutes. “That's ultimately what keeps the competitive edge within the group. That is healthy, to keep pushing the guy next to you, keep pushing others around you. Everyone's really really pushing themselves.”
Dunfield hopes to see that energy transfer onto the pitch on Saturday.
“One of the KPIs (key performance indicators) we're looking for is that they have some fun, that they enjoy it,” highlighted the interim manager. “And then when it gets hard – it's going to get hard, we're playing against a really good Salt Lake team – that there's some resilience. That we stick together and trust in the work and one another.”
He hopes to see it in the stands as well.
“It's Canada Day, hopefully BMO field is packed, the players are clear and they just enjoy their work, executing all of our learnings this week,” outlined Dunfield. “Coming together, working hard, that's where we're going to see the energy, but it'll be tough.”
“It starts with us really living ‘All for One,’” he continued. “And the crowd will be important too. When BMO gets rocking, you don’t need me to say it, but it's a special place.”
The objective going forward is clear, according to Dunfield: “Claw back those seven points.”
TFC has four matches before MLS pauses for the inaugural edition of the Leagues Cup.
They travel to Florida next week for a Tuesday night battle with Orlando City SC before returning home next Saturday to face high-flying expansion side St. Louis CITY SC and then hit the road again a week later against the Chicago Fire.
But up first is Real Salt Lake on Saturday at BMO Field.
Pablo Mastroeni has his side in good form heading into the match, nicely above the playoff line in the Western Conference and unbeaten in five matches overall, most recently a come-from-behind 2-2 draw away to Minnesota United on Saturday. The home side scored twice in the first half only for Salt Lake to storm back in the final 20 minutes, scoring in the 79th minute and equalizing deep in stoppage-time.
Salt Lake has won their last three matches away and are unbeaten in six on the road in MLS play.
With four players tied for the team lead of four goals – Damir Kreilach, Danny Musovski, Pablo Ruiz, and Jeferson Savarino – Salt Lake’s offense has been by committee. Colombian midfielder Andrés Gómez is the top assist man with five to Savarino’s four.
“It’s a good soccer team,” levelled Dunfield. “They're organized, they've got a clear identity. Their comeback against Minnesota was excellent, you felt like that second goal was coming.”
“Concentration is going to be important. They've got two or three mavericks that can hurt us in a second. We're looking forward to it,” he closed. “It'll be an entertaining game.”