Nick Dasovic

Nick Dasovic Q&A

TORONTO – Weeks have passed since Toronto FC were eliminated from contention. While the pitch at BMO Field was overtaken by FC Dallas and Colorado in MLS Cup on Sunday night, TFC have been busy off the field taking steps to turn around a team that missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

Two weeks ago, the club’s parent company, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, hired former Germany star and national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann, and his company, SoccerSolutions, as consultants.

Klinsmann will work with the team’s soccer operations staff, including interim director of soccer Earl Cochrane, his assistant Jim Brennan and interim coach Nick Dasovic.

But the new director of soccer, once hired, will have free reign to fill out his staff despite MLSE insisting he keep an open mind on Cochrane, Brennan and Dasovic.

With his future as head coach or even an employee in doubt, Dasovic recently sat down with

[inline_node:3696] What went right for you and the club this season?

Dasovic: I thought we did quite well in the beginning. We had a bright start, winning the [Nutrilite Canadian Championship]. We got through the pre-qualification round of the [CONCACAF Champions League] and we beat Motagua from Honduras, which got us into the group stage, which is what we were looking to do. Those were definitely positives, and we signed two academy kids and one getting decent minutes at the end of the year.

In general, there was some decent play. Unfortunately, the major obstacles – we wanted to get through to the MLS Cup Playoffs and winning the whole thing and get through CONCACAF – didn’t quite pan out. But I thought we got further ahead in some ways, but we had a dip in the middle of the season and it cost us. What didn’t work for you?

Dasovic: It’s not making the playoffs and finishing with less points than last year. You always want to get better and every year we have gotten better. We missed the playoffs by one point last year on the last day of the season and then this year we were well out of it early with two, three games left in the season. So it’s a disappointing way to end it, but I thought the players that were involved near the end of the season showed some determination, some grit, some passion. How did you grow as a coach during your short stint?

Dasovic: It was interesting. You’re coming from being the voice between the player and the head, and I actually trained a lot with the players as a player because we were down a man [in training]. I was one of the guys actually. So to have to try to take over a group and try to automatically obtain some kind of disciplinary stuff was difficult. But somebody wise said to me, "Just be yourself," and that’s what it was. I still got along with the players and they knew when I wanted things done or how I wanted things done, and I thought they reacted the right way and I didn’t try to be somebody I wasn’t. What’s the source of inspiration for your coaching philosophy?

Dasovic: I’ve had the opportunity to play professional football in France, Sweden, Scotland and Croatia, among many other countries, while playing with Canada. The inspiration just comes from being well traveled and what it takes to be a footballer, and that means every single day you have to bring it to work, and that’s the kind of players I want on my team: the guys that fight every day to have a job, because it comes down to, you’re playing football, you’re a paid professional.

It’s not about the money, but it’s about having the pride and passion to play for whatever club you are. I always tell the players, “Look at yourself in the mirror” – it’s an old cliche – “and if you’re happy with what you’ve seen in the picture because of how you trained, then great; if there’s something you don’t like about it, change.” It’s up to themselves to change it. It’s always tough to have the coach change things for you. What did you learn from your predecessors, John Carver, Chris Cummins and Preki, that you applied while you were head coach?

Dasovic: You learn something from every coach you have. I think the biggest things  I’ve learned are – particularly through the first guys – attention to detail, which means attention to game videos, analysis of games. Make sure you do the proper scouting. Same with training. Make sure training was organized, that it has a basic theme. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to not leave any stone unturned because you always want to give yourself the best chance. What did you draw from your playing experience to help you relate to the players, given the fact that you’re not that much beyond them in age?

Dasovic: I’ve been retired now seven-odd years, so it’s not just around the corner. It’s been a while and I’ve had a lot of coaching with the Canadian setup the Under-20s, the Olympic team and World Cup team. So I always think: If I was a player, what would I want to do today? How would I feel comfortable? What would I enjoy doing?

And I think as much as you have to still maintain some sort of discipline and some certain work ethic, I think you have to have diversity in training schedules not to get into some kind of monotony where guys lose it. Because you still have to keep them motivated and keep them guessing themselves.

When we as a staff meet, we always try to switch things up, whether it be warm-up or a shooting drill. Whatever we want to do we always try to maintain some sort of diversity that guys are always being tested and are focused because of that. How do you feel the team responded to your approach?

Dasovic: It was such a short stint – 10 games, but it was within a six-week period. We had games every mid week and weekend and to be fair I thought they did OK. Unfortunately, by that time of the year, and with our injury situation and our lack of depth, we were without a talent pool. We ended up using 13 to 15 players through the last 10 games and you can see the levels of fatigue that started setting in at different times of matches.

I think that was the toughest part for the players to get through, but as a coach, I though they did what we asked them to do. Some days it didn’t work, some days it did and that’s the way it goes. It’s one of those that if you had a longer period of time to build the things the way you want, would it have been different? I would hope so, and I think it would be different. What are you most proud of in the short stint?

It’s a tough one. I think probably the Mexico game against Cruz Azul. We drew 0-0 after a hard two games on the road in Houston and Salt Lake, and they came in the third game of that stretch and they went down to Mexico City and after playing those games, got a draw, 0-0.

I think that was the turning point where a lot of players understood what we as a staff wanted to do and how we wanted to play and it wasn’t so much offensive, but how we wanted to set up defenses and they started listening and that to me was the turning point where they were kind of starting to believe in what we as a group in what we wanted to achieve in one aspect of the game.

[inline_node:4933] Among the academy players that saw action, which youngster do you think is poised to make an impact for the team next season?

Dasovic: I would say Nicholas Lindsay has done the best out of all of them, but again you got to be careful. You can’t give a kid too much too early where he’s going to be playing 30-odd games next year. He still needs time to develop. And we’re here to help him develop and help him keep his feet on the ground.

I think, right now, because of athleticism and how he’s reacted to the games he has had, he has put himself in the right position to fight for a spot next year whether it’ll be a starting role or off the bench. But it’s up to him to do it next year. During your stint, you questioned the character of certain players in the dressing room, going so far as to say some of the players "chucked in the towel" down the stretch. Do you regret that, and do you have any regrets?

Dasovic: I think every day, you question people and I question myself as a coach. Every day I have a log book where I write things in the book, and if there’s ever a day that you’re completely happy and satisfied, then you’re not going very far. I think you always want to get better. I questioned some of the character, and when I look back at it in hindsight, regret might be a good word.

When you look at the situation when I said it, it was after a coaching change. It was after long travel and there were a lot of issues there. Your passion takes the better part of you sometimes, and you say things you might regret. I was proud of the way the players reacted in terms of the whole 10 games at the end there.

I thought they did well and I was pleased with them but the character thing, it’s not just about the games, it’s about the way you come to work, the way you come to training – it’s the whole part about being a pro. Do you do work in the community? Do you represent the club outside the four walls that you work in? And that’s where I was going with that. But I think the players knew well what I meant and I didn’t mean anything malicious, but sometimes you got to learn as a coach, too. It’s a learning trait for me as a young coach that you have to watch what you say in the media sometimes. How do you plan to work with Klinsmann going forward as far as his work on following through with the process that MLSE wants to establish an identity for the club?

Dasovic: If you get a chance to work with world-class people and they’re in your office, you get to pick their brains and get inside them and they can teach you things. What a great opportunity. I’m really looking forward to working with his group and, hopefully, learn a lot from him. Hopefully, we as a staff can let him know what we’re about and we’ll know which way he wants to take our club. But we’re all looking forward to working with a gentleman of that stature and that reputation. I think it’s a great thing for the club. What role would you like to have if you’re not head coach next season?

I’d still love to be part of the club. But if it’s one of those [situations] where they bring in a highly respected coach, whether it be European or South American, and I had a chance to learn under him, then that would be great working as an assistant. And there’s obviously the reserve league next year, so it gives you a chance to still work with the team, to have both teams to work with and just keep getting better as a coach, because I’m a long way away from being where I want to [be] and I just want to grow and get better every day.