A week on from Saturday’s defeat away to FC Cincinnati, Toronto FC are set to return to the pitch.
In a season that has both just begun and dragged on forever, a regular interval between matches was much needed.
“It was important to come back with a plan that involved looking hard at ourselves: where we're doing well and where we need to improve,” said Chris Armas during Thursday’s prematch Zoom conference call. “And then what does that look like moving forward with specific training, functional training.”
“The only way to get better is to identify and take steps towards correcting. That's what this week was about,” he continued. “In tough moments just to stick together and attack the situation with honesty and with energy and the realest way you can.”
Toronto has taken the time to address the mistakes that have haunted them.
“First thing we do as a team is look at video,” explained Kemar Lawrence. “You look at video individually, then you look at it collectively, and the first thing you see is simple mistakes – a mistake that you won’t make for the rest of the season – but those are the mistakes that we are making.”
“So what we do, when we train, is we put more emphasis on the little things that we're doing wrong,” he continued. “We've been doing a lot of defensive work so that we can be on the same level – with defenders, it's four guys, but we’ve got to move like one. So we’ve been doing work to move like one unit and I feel like that's going to show up on Saturday and a lot of people are going to be really impressed with the way that, defensively, we look.”
On the heels of five losses Armas isn’t seeing that stretch weighing on the players.
“A sense of focus is what I'm seeing,” he replied. “There's an intensity to training by design on my end, really pushing the tempo and intensity, but then there's also boys being boys – there's music on in warm-up and good energy.”
“The morale is good,” Armas continued. “It's just that we all aren’t comfortable accepting what's gone on, so there's a realness that comes with it.”
“Right now we are one game at a time in our minds. And even within a game, we're talking about segments of time, five minutes, winning five-minute segments. That's the mindset right now,” he elaborated. “That each game becomes the most important game.”
“The guys understand,” he added. “There are players in this locker room that have been around, they know you can't keep saying it's early in the year, you’ve got to start amassing and accumulating points because teams are. And we know that the playoff line starts to get further away. We understand that.”
D.C. United, under Herman Losada in his first year at the helm of the club, enter Saturday’s match winless in two – a late defeat away to NYCFC on the weekend and a scoreless draw away to CF Montreal last Wednesday. They won their most recent home match on June 19 against Inter Miami CF.
Ola Kamara leads the side with four goals through seven appearances, while familiar names – Edison Flores, Paul Arriola, and Felipe Martins – have chipped in with goals and assists. A lengthy injury list saw key players – goalkeeper Bill Hamid, defender Steve Birnbaum, and Arriola – miss extended periods of time.
Having won their opening game they lost the next three. Won another, then lost two. Then won two-straight before the current winless stretch. They’ve been a difficult team to assess.
“It's a team that is playing pretty well right now,” said Armas. “They're hard to beat, they're hard to score on. They're a team that comes with energy, a team that high presses, a team that foul a lot – number one in the league in fouls committed – so that's a tough game for us, for most teams in the league.”
“We have to first understand what type of game that's going to be. Understand that some of what I just said is their strengths and how we attack that and how we can make things difficult for them. Oftentimes with a team like that you have to understand where you want to play the game,” he continued. “They're doing a nice job over there. They’re relying on young players right now and energy. We will have to match that and put together a performance that not only involves intensity, but also concentration and execution. We're looking forward to it. We'll have a plan to go after three points.”
Added Lawrence: “The clips that I've seen, they're a team that likes to get the ball outside and get players in the box, so we’ve got to pick up runners and we can give away bad balls and hurt ourselves.”
“I feel, all these games we play, if we don't hurt ourselves then we have a massive chance of winning,” he continued. “We’ve got to be ready for crosses, take care of that, and then let our football take over. It's going to be an exciting game from us to watch.”
“Firstly we need to bring energy, bring some fight in their building. We know each MLS team in their own building is different level, no matter where you go,” Lawrence highlighted. “If there’s one thing I learned about MLS it’s going anywhere but your home, every team turns into a Barcelona – it's just the way MLS works.”