TORONTO – A new era has officially begun for Toronto FC.
The club announced on Wednesday that Chris Armas would take the head coaching reins at TFC, the tenth in club history, stepping into the role left by Greg Vanney.
“He is a winner,” Bill Manning a Zoom call on Thursday afternoon. “Chris Armas, as a player, as an assistant coach, as a college coach, and most recently as a head coach, is a winner.”
He knows what it takes. pic.twitter.com/NP4hhXznXd— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) January 13, 2021
“First and foremost that was the most important ingredient for us in a new head coach,” continued the TFC president. “We wanted a coach who was going to embrace our culture and enhance it, not someone who was going to break it down. Chris has relationships within our organization, he is someone of extremely high character, and he is the perfect fit for us as we move forward into this next chapter.”
In the six weeks since Vanney’s departure was announced, general manager Ali Curtis has been engaged in ‘a vast, exhaustive, and methodical search’ to fill the position.
“I know we've got the right man for the job,” said Curtis. “We viewed international, domestic, varying levels of experience; big clubs, small clubs, no clubs. Many people were interested in the role and we interviewed and met with multiple candidates. Lots of research, comprehensive analysis, reference checks. We really did a very, very thorough job in ensuring that we found the right candidate and Chris was the top of the charts.”
“I've known Chris for a long time, but through the conversations that we've had over the last couple weeks I have been enlightened and learned a lot about Chris,” he added. “We are very, very excited [for] Chris to come in, for his voice, for his leadership. It's an exciting time for Toronto FC.”
Armas called it ‘a special day’ for him and his family.
“From the bottom of my heart, me, my wife Justine and my boys, we are not only grateful, but we're honoured,” he elaborated. “There's a real responsibility, I know, but for this opportunity to be the next TFC head coach.”
“From the outside, I only had a glimpse,” Armas continued. “When we would visit BMO Field, when we would come to town, you could only get a sense of what things were like. What you knew for sure was not just that the field was perfectly cut and watered the way they wanted, you hear good things are happening on the inside, you knew that the team was good – that stuff was easy for me to see, but in these last weeks, when you start having these internal conversations with Ali Curtis and Bill Manning at first. We talked about the game, and about so many things to exhaustion. You start seeing, ‘Whoa, this is really a special place.’”
“The things they're emphasizing, the questions they're asking, it went much deeper than just the tactics and it became about the people,” he added. “The last part of it was when I was able to meet with Larry Tanenbaum and to talk about dogs, life, talk about the game, talk about leadership, talk about what we cared about.”
“You hang up that Zoom call and you say, ‘If I only have the opportunity to work for him, to work hard to deliver a trophy to him, and Ali, and Bill, this would be a dream come true,’” Armas reflected. “For the team, the standards of excellence, the people. It's an understatement when I say I'm excited to get going.”
After six-plus years under the same coach, choosing a new direction is a crucial moment.
“These are big decisions,” admitted Curtis. “They're critical, they're long lasting, so we wanted to make sure that we were doing everything that we could do to make the right decision and not just the decision that would appease folks on Twitter. We wanted to make the right decision because we know how that will translate into outcome and what's best for the club, what's best for the city, what's best for the team.”
There was a moment when Curtis knew this decision was the right one.
“I met with Chris I believe on a Saturday morning and after I got off that call, I was so excited,” Curtis relayed. “Maybe I'm oversharing, but it was such a different feeling because I had known Chris for so long, but in the meeting I learned so much more about him as a coach and even a little bit more as a person. At that moment I knew we were going to be in the right place. TFC was going to improve, we're going to get better, we're going to win.”
Both men logged off from that conversation with a similar feeling.
“Ali talked about the people, about the standards, about the way people work and treat each other,” recalled Armas. “The more he spoke about it, the more it seemed like that would be a good fit for a guy like me. We share similar ideals and that was really important to me, and Toronto.”
“You can feel the passion. I have experienced that being in the building, but it is impressive,” he continued. “You can just see from the players what it means, the connection to the city, the connection that's throughout this club. That makes it a different place to work. I have been to many organizations and different levels and there's a certain energy and a certain buzz to what goes on there. I don't think that's normal.”
Armas knows he has big shoes to fill.
“My wife is an OR nurse,” he replied. “When she comes home, every time she goes to work, I can talk about the pressure of what she has seen in this last year and just in general.”
“I'm not a young guy, I've been around and I've experienced life and when I think about the game it's when I'm most alive, on the field, competing. So, when you think about the work that's been done and shoes to fill and expectations and standards, that's exactly where a guy like me wants to be,” continued Armas. “So if I have a chance to go to a club that has ambitions, has resources, has top players, has supporters that understand the game, that show up every game, that are behind the team, an organization that cares about people, ownership that are the most humble people you've ever met. That's exactly where real competitors want to be and that's one of the biggest reasons I came to the club.”
“Yes, I want to win, the pressure is to win,” he levelled. “This will wake me up early and it'll put me to bed late – I'll sleep well, but I'm going to work. I'm going to work hard to deliver excellence, trophies, and I can guarantee that I will coach a team that is clear with roles, we are together, we don't cut corners, and we have a style of play that is on the front foot and we go after every game.”
“I can talk proudly of the work that I've been part of because that was the case, and that will be the case,” Armas concluded. “I love Greg Vanney, me and him go back, way back. And Dan Calichman, Robin Fraser, Jim Liston, so it's an honour and a privilege to follow their footsteps and to add to it. I am coming here to add to the excellence and to keep it at a high level, but this does not scare me, this excites me, let me tell you, and all competitors I think would feel the same.”