As Javier Perez said following Wednesday night’s defeat away to the Philadelphia Union, progress in football is never a straight line.
Since he took over the managerial role at Toronto FC, Perez has been focused on one thing: turning around the club’s fortunes.
A five-game unbeaten start was a positive turn. Midweek was a set-back, but now it’s time for a response.
“The most important thing when you have a step backwards like we had against Philadelphia is that you recover right away,” said Perez on Friday. “It’s not an option for us. We play at home, we need to bounce back, we know that that's a must.”
“As a coach [your job is to] bring the team together, get them ready as quick as possible, physically, mentally, and make sure that the team is in a good place so that tomorrow they are going to come out and they are going to put up a fight,” he continued. “You cannot control the result, but you can control the process, and we are in a very good place.”
Toronto failed to match Philadelphia’s intensity from the opening whistle.
“We just didn't do that and we paid for it,” levelled Jonathan Osorio. “We've spoken about that and we don't want to let that happen again – we won’t let that happen again. Moving forward the guys want to keep heading in the right direction.”
“Everybody is motivated,” he continued. “We look around the room and we see the players, we see the quality, and we know we have to be better. We know this, we're aware of this. We know there's still a lot to play for this season.”
“Everybody's desire is up, everybody is motivated to change things,” he added. “And we have the opportunity to do that on Saturday, to keep it going.”
Saturday brings a familiar foe to BMO Field.
Over the years, TFC and NYCFC have had some epic tussles, whether in Toronto or in New York City.
The two have already met once this season – a 1-1 draw on May 15 at Yankee Stadium where Jesus Medina put the hosts ahead shortly after half-time, but Jacob Shaffelburg equalized off the bench in the 74th minute.
Perez will be deeply familiar with this weekend’s opposition, having been an assistant at the club under Patrick Vieira and Domenec Torrent.
“An amazing club, an amazing city,” said Perez. “City [Football] Group is a very big sporting organization. It was a great time for me, I spent four years there; I learned a lot.”
“It is very interesting how they integrate the philosophy across all the clubs that they have all over the world,” he added. “It's an organization to look at and to learn from.”
That kindness will not be extended onto the pitch.
“A tough game as always,” forecast Osorio. “They're a very organized team and they've evolved now to a team that’s not as stubborn with their build-outs and style of play. They can adapt, they’re a team that can find a way to win the game. Not always playing through everything, they can go direct now.”
“And so I expect a hard game,” he continued. “They press really well and they have a lot of really good movement on the ball, they ask a lot of questions of the defensive team. We have to be organized and defend smartly. And then that intensity has to be there from minute one, especially that we're home, we have to set the tone.”
Perez expects the game to be a little different from the one against Philadelphia.
“[NYCFC] is a team that brings, like most teams in this league, high intensity, high pace, but they like to play a little bit more in between lines,” explained the coach. “With the coach that they have right now, they like to play a little bit in behind as well, so they mix both parts of the game, but all in all it’s going to be a game again with high intensity, high energy.”
Ronny Deila’s side enters the match in good form, riding a four-game unbeaten run that saw them beat CF Montreal 1-0 before dismantling both Orlando City SC and the Columbus Crew – 5-0 and 4-1, respectively.
Most recently they battled the Chicago Fire to a 0-0 draw on the road.
Jesus Medina leads the side with seven goals through 16 matches, Valentin Castallanos and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi are close behind with six each. And Maxi Moralez has continued to pull the strings with a team-leading five assists on the season.
Since that May meeting, NYCFC have added a pair of Brazilian attackers in Thiago Andrade and Talles Magno, bolstering an already formidable threat.
“The key player for me is Maxi Moralez, with a lot of personality and the ability to play with the ball – he’s the driving machine of the team,” said Perez. “Tati Castellanos up front, Jesus Medina playing in between lines, [Thiago] Andrade as well, in transition very fast. And then at the back Maxime Chanot, who has a lot of presence in the team.”
“They have a number of players that can change the game,” he cautioned. “So we will have to be very organized in order to avoid these opportunities that they create, It’s a very dynamic team.”
Elsewhere the big soccer news this morning was the Canadian Women’s National Team winning Olympic Gold in Tokyo with a penalty shootout win over Sweden.
“Congrats to the women's team,” smiled Osorio. “We have a group chat between some of them and some of the men's players. Always we're supporting each other. They were supporting us during Gold Cup and we've been following them during their Olympic run.”
“I'm very happy for them. In the last two Olympics they came close to playing for a gold medal and then finally getting over that hump is amazing,” he continued. “The whole country is so proud.”