In five matches under Javier Perez, Toronto FC are yet to be defeated.
A dramatic debut win away to league-leading New England Revolution, draws against Orlando City SC and the New York Red Bulls upon their return to BMO Field, a gutsy away win at the Chicago Fire, and another draw back home against Nashville SC.
Having conceded 27 goals through the first 11 matches during their exodus, the first order of business was to shore up the defense. Six goals against in the last five matches is the fruits of that effort.
Now the attention can more fully turn to how the team uses the ball as Perez approaches the end of his first month at the helm.
“You're seeing some parts of the football that I like to develop,” explained the interim coach, pointing to the match against Nashville, where Toronto controlled large stretches of play. “First of all I like to empower the talented players. We are fortunate to have many of them in this team. Secondly, as I mentioned before, our main objective was to settle the team defensively – without the defense there’s no way that you can do anything, right?”
“I like to play with the ball, most players like to play with the ball, it’s the best way to defend. When you have the ball it’s not possible for the opposition to get to your end, to hurt you,” he continued. “For that you need to put the most talented players in the right positions and get the chemistry with these players, and, ultimately, the most difficult part which is getting the ball into the final third and get players inside the box to score goals.”
“I have a short-term job, which is getting results right now, but I have a clear idea how I would like to see the team develop,” Perez levelled. “We completed the first phase which is making sure the team is solidified and then we can implement different parts on the offensive side.”
Through those five matches, Perez has deployed a variety of formations – injuries and the Gold Cup absences meant that he did not have the full side at his disposal. But with Yeferson Soteldo and Jozy Altidore now healthy, Alejandro Pozuelo expected to return shortly, Jonathan Osorio and Richie Laryea back from the Gold Cup, and Michael Bradley and Mark Delgado key cogs in the midfield, the coach now has a new headache on his hands: how to fit everyone on the field. It’s the good kind of headache.
“When you have such a talented pool of players you have to find a way to fit them in.” replied Perez. “I’m a believer that you have to adjust to your players.”
“Obviously you have your ideas tactically, you have to think about the opposition,” he continued. “So it's a lot of components to take into consideration, but when you have such important players you have to find a way to put them on the field.”
He will have plenty of opportunities ahead to find the right way to combine those elements.
The match against Nashville kicked off another busy month of action. It was the first of seven games this month – a series of two triplets capped off by a derby away to CF Montreal on August 27.
Home to Nashville, away to Philadelphia, home to NYCFC is the first stretch – all teams sitting towards the top of the Eastern Conference.
Up next is the Union on Wednesday night at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania.
Jim Curtin’s side currently sit fifth in the East, but come into the game winless in three with just a single victory in their last seven – at home over D.C. United when the league resumed following the Gold Cup break.
They lost 2-1 away to Orlando the following week and followed that up with 1-1 draws away to Inter Miami CF and Chicago.
Forget their current form, and despite seeing two standouts – Brendan Aaronson and Mark McKenzie transferred to Europe in the offseason – this is still the side that won the Supporters’ Shield last season and has been steadily transforming into one of the better sides in the league over the past few years.
“Jim's done a fantastic job,” said Eriq Zavaleta. “This is a team who historically hasn't been big spenders, but he's found really good MLS players from within the league and from without. They've always been a really tough team to play against, a tough team to play against at home but also when they're away from home.”
“Going there is never easy – it hasn't been easy for us when we were at our top form and when we're not. He understands the league really well, which is an important part of an MLS coach, he understands what's needed to get results and he has his group together, working for each other with an identity,” he continued. “That's a big key to team success in this league. It's no secret and no surprise that he's been successful in MLS thus far.”
Kacper Przybylko leads the side with six goals through 17 appearances, backed up by Cory Bent (four in 12), and Sergio Santos (three in 16), with Jamiro Monteiro and Kai Wagner still pulling the strings – four and three assists respectively.
“I expect a very difficult game, very tight like the ones we have been playing so far,” forecast Perez. “It’s a very energetic team, they play a 4-4-2 diamond, they have very good players up front, they take their chances with Przybylko up top. Santos is a transition player that is very effective and then Ale Bedoya is the heart and soul of the team, he’s the one bringing all the energy.”
“All in all we are going to find a very strong side,” he added. “We are going to have to match the desire and the intensity if we want to get all three points away from them.”
Philadelphia won the last meeting emphatically at home – 5-0 last October that proved decisive in the Shield race between the two – but Toronto won the one earlier that month in Connecticut and had taken points from their previous five visits to Chester.
Another big match lies ahead. It’s three-pointers all the way down for TFC, whether on the road or at BMO Field.
“Right now, everything for us is a three-point game. And we have to treat all of them the same way,” stressed Perez. “It would be a mistake to think that we're going to approach the game differently if we go away.”
“We are a long way from the end of the season, halfway through,” he reminded. “Our approach has to be ambitious, our approach has to be that we go out every game out thinking that we have to get the three points.”