When Toronto FC take to the pitch on Wednesday night, there will be a new man on the touchlines.
Assistant coach Javier Perez steps into the managerial role for the club on an interim basis following the departure of Chris Armas.
His deep experience in the game, stretching from NYCFC, to the U.S. Men’ s National Team programs, and Real Madrid’s youth teams has prepared him for moments like these.
“This is the industry. This is soccer. This is football,” said Perez in his introductory press conference on Tuesday. “These are difficult situations. First of all to see a team that has so much expectation be in this position. Secondly, it's very difficult to see someone like Chris go, because he’s a good coach, a good person.”
“But at the same time experience prepares you for these kind of situations and you are professional and you have to adapt,” he continued. “So the last three days everything has been how we can help the players and the team prepare for the next game.”
Winless in seven, having lost six straight, and coming off the heaviest defeat in club history, much work lies ahead, but that journey begins midweek away to the New England Revolution, who top the Eastern Conference.
“No situation is exactly the same, but all the experiences that you've built over the years in professional football help you,” explained Perez. “You have to tailor the way you handle each situation. I have been in positions where the team has been very successful, situations where the team has not been doing so well, and this one needs a specific approach.”
“The team needs change, the team needs to stick together,” he levelled. “But a lot of things are similar. The formula is you do this, you do this together, with the players, with the coaching staff, with the supporting staff. It's not about me, it's not about one player, two players, we have to pull this off together.”
It’s a difficult moment for the club.
“We're all extremely disappointed and frustrated and angry,” said Michael Bradley about the current circumstances. “In moments like this there's no choice but to pull together and find our way out of a really difficult situation.”
“We're the ones who got ourselves into it and we're the ones who are going to have to get ourselves out of it,” he continued. “There's no magic answers, there's no easy solutions, it's just down to the people on the inside, ready to work and ready to claw ourselves out of this one game at a time.”
After the New England game the team will return to Toronto with the start of the Gold Cup break. What lies beyond remains to be determined, but the season will resume on July 17 with a home game against Orlando City SC.
“It's the only way we can look at it right now,” began Bradley, asked if this provided an opportunity for a reset. “Obviously, there's big excitement in the fact that now we're coming home. Mentally it's as important as anything that could happen. Guys can be back in their homes, guys to show up at our training facility every day – hoping for good news regarding the ability to play at BMO Field. Mentally you can't overstate how big that part is.”
“There's 23 games left, 69 points on the board,” he reiterated, echoing his statements post-match. “It doesn't take much to go back and see what number you need to have a real chance to make the playoffs.”
“There's a lot of work in front of us, for sure,” Bradley admitted. “Is it impossible? No chance. We have no other choice but to take things one game at a time and try to stabilize ourselves, try to start to gain confidence and put some points on the board.”
“If we can do that then we can continue to take things one game at a time and continue to try to gain a little bit of momentum. The picture can change very quickly if you can go 3, 4, 5, 6 games and pick up real points,” he reminded. “The number of times over the last few years where we've been able to go 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 games, go on a real good run, that part gives hope and optimism, but you have to start somewhere. So we're going to continue to push that that's happening tomorrow night.”
Three days between matches is hardly enough time to make significant changes, but it is a start.
“Javier has done a really good job in the last day or two of taking control of things,” said Bradley. “Trying to get things organized in a good way and trying to get guys in the right frame of mind to step on the field.”
The focus has been on preparations for the upcoming opponent.
“Yesterday we prepared a little bit what we're going to do defensively and today was more with the ball,” outlined Perez. “It’s a quick turnaround, but it’s enough time for the players to understand how important and critical this moment is; to get the minds wrapped around the idea that we need to put together a good performance.”
Gillette Stadium has been an unwelcome venue in the past. In 15 matches, TFC have won just three times and drawn five.
And with the Revolution running at a two-points-per-game clip, having won all five of their home matches this season, it is a tall task.
A pair of disappointing away results – a 2-2 draw at the Columbus Crew on Saturday where they gave up a two-goal lead and a 2-1 loss at FC Dallas the week before – will have Bruce Arena’s side looking to go into the break on a positive note.
Gustavo Bou leads the side with six goals through ten appearances, while Adam Buksa and Tajon Buchanan have added four and three respectively. It is playmaker Carles Gil who pulls the strings with a league-leading ten assists on the season, involved on the scoresheet in fully half of New England’s goals thus far.
“New England are a good team,” said Bradley. “They have a good blend of football and athleticism. Gil has been one of, if not the, best attacking players in the league so far this year. His ability to float around the field, find space, connecting, have an eye for final passes, that part is all excellent.”
It is worth noting that Toronto won their last visit to New England, drew the one before that, and are unbeaten in five against the Revs.
“They have good balance in their team of football players, of guys who can be dangerous, guys who have athleticism, so it's a big test,” the captain added. “But we're going to go there with the confidence that on our best days we have a really good team as well and we're going to try to give them a real game.”