In difficult times it can be useful to take a breath, assess the situation with clear eyes, and craft a plan to move forward.
It’s easier said than done, of course, but on the back of two-straight last-minute defeats and five where the teams feels points were left on the table, Toronto FC have been doing just that.
“We’re pretty honest with ourselves,” said Michael Bradley during Friday’s prematch Zoom call. “We can always look, regardless of results, and see what's been good, see what needs to be better.”
“Nobody's trying to sugarcoat anything right now. We've got to find the right ways to finish games and get the points and the results that we need,” he continued. “There's no script to how any one game plays out, but to have a group of guys on the field that just is going to step on the field, and regardless of how anything goes, be ready to commit to the whole thing and do whatever it takes to walk off the field with three points – that's where we are right now. We have to find a way to take that last step, reward ourselves, take the points that we need and really start to go on a good run and move ourselves up the table.”
It’s natural for heads to drop and questions to be asked when results are not forthcoming. In those low moments, someone needs to step up.
“It's my job, it really is,” replied Chris Armas. “When things are moving and rolling and things are in a fluid state and the victories are coming, the way you control messaging and can push the group and really get after it, there’s little room for that. When it's tougher it's a time to be very deliberate in how you go after the group and push some of the details or some of the mistakes or some of these things. I'm very mindful of it.”
While in the aftermath of Wednesday’s wild 3-2 loss to Nashville SC the locker room may have been quiet. That was not an item of baggage the team brought back to Florida ahead of Saturday’s match.
“But man,” relayed Armas. “Dom Dwyer hits a bicycle kick in training today in set-pieces, the young guys are in a competition on penalties after, there is roaring energy in training. With me it's about engaging the group and in an honest and real way, but letting the group breathe in certain ways. And trying to be a figure of energy and positivity. It's my job to stand tall for this team... as far as I can at 5’ 7”.”
“That's a big part of it and we're in a really good way. We're not harping on negativity. We're not harping on where we are in the standings, we're looking forward, three points at a time,” he continued. “It’s something that I'm deliberately thinking about and managing every single day and every single conversation.”
Toronto will have a chance to run it back out there once more this weekend with the visit of FC Cincinnati to Exploria Stadium in Orlando.
Jaap Stam’s side comes to Florida with wind in their sails, on the heels of a 1-0 away win at the Chicago Fire midweek. Cincinnati have won their last two away matches – their only two wins of the season.
Having taken the reins at the club in May 2020, the former Dutch defender is still experimenting with what works best for the side.
“They've done some different things,” observed Armas. “They've played with three in the back – or five in the back – early on, they've mixed in and out of that. They’re mixing in a 4-3-3. The last few results: four in the back, 4-2-3-1, but when you have [Luciano] Acosta on the field, he moves around in lots of spaces, which poses trouble.”
The former D.C. United playmaker joined Cincinnati in the offseason.
“One of their strengths is transition moments with quick players getting up the field, guys that can break you down, and outside backs or wing-backs that can get forward with some speed in a deliberate way. They're coming off a big win in Chicago,” continued the TFC coach. “They're a team that can give trouble, lots of shots they’re getting off – they’re in every game.”
“We have a lot of respect for what they can do, how they can hurt you. We understand some of the strengths and then we focus on ways we can get after them. It's team we have to be very careful with,” Armas added. “It becomes about TFC stepping on the field and putting that 90 minutes together – that is so important for us.”
Nothing worth having, in life, in soccer, comes easy.
“Nothing has been easy for anybody in the last 18 months,” levelled Bradley. “We've tried our hardest to still be a team that, with everything going on, can step on the field and play in a way that makes the people who watch us back home proud.”
“Over the last five, six, seven years we've been able to do that on a lot of days – maybe not every one, but on a lot of them. And nobody here is happy or satisfied with how things are going right now, nobody is ready to write anything off,” he continued. “But the reality is that it's a new group coming together.”
“Circumstances have made it a little bit more challenging for sure, but we are going to get things going. The team and the club has earned the respect of our fans over the last, again, five, six, seven years. And so I get it, nobody likes or is happy with the results right now, but we need – whether we're in Orlando, or Hartford, or Toronto – we need our fans to stay close with us,” Bradley added. “We're going to get this thing right. We're going to continue to push forward in a strong way. And that's that.”