Though still bothered by the decisions midweek, Javier Perez was back to his usual self on Friday afternoon as he spoke to the media ahead of Toronto FC’s weekend match against Nashville SC.
Perez and the Reds were rightly aggrieved after several decisions did not go their way on Tuesday night, resulting in a late-minute 1-0 penalty kick loss to Inter Miami CF, but attention has turned to taking the positives of a strong outing and the next opponent.
“The performance is there,” recalled Perez of a match where, even after going down to ten men in the first half, TFC were the better side. “We feel frustrated because we deserved that goal that wasn't called and then the penalty at the end, but the message we got from that game is that the team is playing well.”
“The team was settled, stable, and better than Miami, including when we were playing with ten players, and we bring that into the next game against Nashville,” he continued. “We didn't get any points from that game, but the confidence in the group, in the team, has changed. The training sessions we have had since then the team looks really good and we are confident heading into the Nashville game.”
Saturday will be Toronto’s third match in a week since returning from the international break; the schedule going forward will be just as wild. Wednesday sees the first-ever clash between GTA rivals with the visit of York United FC, led by former Red Jim Brennan, to BMO Field in the Canadian Championship and then the next triplet of MLS dates kicks off on Saturday with an away trip to face Robin Fraser’s high-flying Colorado Rapids ahead of home dates against FC Cincinnati and the Chicago Fire.
“The schedule is as difficult for us as for everybody else,” dismissed Perez of any concerns. “We try to rotate players, rotate the team, but at the same time we want to keep the core and the essence of the team.”
“We looked good against Miami and that's the objective,” he stressed. “We’ll make little changes in the team, but we want to keep the same essence, the same style, the same intensity, and same performance.”
In Nashville, TFC will be going toe-to-toe with one of the top sides in the Eastern Conference. Gary Smith’s side enters this round of play sitting in second place.
Winners of their last three, unbeaten in five, with just one defeat in their last 15 matches, Nashville, who were heralded for their defensive prowess in their debut season last year, have added some attacking flair to the mix this year.
That defensive solidity is still there – Nashville have conceded just 21 goals through 23 matches and lost just twice all season, drawing 11 times – but with Hany Mukhtar finding his footing in MLS and CJ Sapong rekindled, they are a team that has clearly evolved.
“It's one of the teams in top form in the league,” highlighted Perez. “They concede very few goals – only seven in the last 10 games and they’ve scored 17 goals. All in all it’s a team that maximize their opportunities.”
“Mukhtar is one of the best players in the league and we will have to be very cautious about him,” he warned. “They have a target player that knows very well the league in Sapong and then players around them that can help and support, like [Daniel] Rios, [Tah] Anunga, and then [Walker] Zimmerman is back in the team as well.”
“They play 5-3-2, they play with high intensity – partially to to cover some weaknesses at the back, but it's a team that have done a tremendous job and the proof is their position in the table,” summed up Perez. “It's going to be a very tough game, a tight game, and we are looking forward to it. It’s going to benchmark where we are right now.”
Toronto and Nashville have already met twice this season – with Nashville winning in June at home by a 3-2 scoreline after some late heroics by Luke Haakenson and drew 1-1 at BMO Field in August where once more TFC took the lead only for Nashville to pull level.
Two matches where only the thinnest of margins proved the difference. That’s MLS, the difference between the top of the table and not is percentage points.
“This is the tightest league I know,” said Perez. “I can see, compared to Europe, compared to any other league in the world, the salary cap, the rules in place make the league very attractive in that sense and very even. Teams can one season do really well and the next maybe not as good – or not good at all.”
“We can put up a performance against the team that most likely is going to be the Supporters’ Shield Champions (the New England Revolution),” he compared. “We beat them at [their] home scoring three goals and they are going to end up first and we are in last place.”
“There’s no easy games in the league.... And that's a positive thing,” Perez noted. “We want to compete, we want to measure our forces, and we want to benchmark the team where it is. It's going to be interesting against Nashville. They’re a team in top form. So was Miami – we were the better team on the field. I expect the same thing tomorrow: I expect our team to be hungry and to be competitive from minute one.”