TORONTO – In assessing the current stable of players now at his disposal, Chris Armas was pleased.
“What I like, where do I begin,” opened the new Toronto FC head coach during Thursday’s Zoom conference call. “I love the fact that when I look at the roster – and I understand the team from seeing them and coaching against them – there's a lot of winners on the roster.”
“Besides player qualities, there's mentality, with a guy like Michael [Bradley] there's internal leadership, there's the passion of Alejandro [Pozuelo], there's players on this team that have been in big moments and can perform in big moments,” he continued. “In 2019, [when I was the Red Bulls coach], we were right there with them in the standings, they make a run and we don't and that separates it. Where you have guys that have been there, there's real internal belief and that comes from experience.”
“That's the initial part, the other part is I see a really intelligent team, players that make good decisions, players that can handle the ball, technical players, players that can use the ball, not just move the ball, they can use the ball and move opposition, they can find and understand spaces, the way Alejandro does,” highlighted Armas. “He really interprets space, which sounds easy, but trying to teach that to a player is difficult. Everywhere around the field there's a nice balance of speed in some spots and technical abilities in spots, winning mentality in areas. And then the overall team intelligence is high IQ in many ways.”
Armas has been handed the proverbial keys to the Ferrari.
“A lot of GMs and coaches around the league [would] love to have TFC’s roster,” levelled TFC General Manager Ali Curtis. “First and foremost we've got some excellent leaders and players with experience, but [also] first and second year players that have been at TFC just as long, although they've come up from our academy. They have been ingratiated in our culture and the way in which we do things and the way in which we want to play.”
“When you're putting together a roster, sometimes on the outside what's most exciting or most intriguing is that new player. Sometimes that is the missing piece that you need and those decisions are really important, but equally important are those players that you either re-sign or cultivate from within,” he added. “And when you think about all those types of different players, we have those. We've got a very strong roster. We'll look to improve it.”
Returning much of last season’s roster with a head coach now in place, TFC President Bill Manning, Curtis, and Armas can turn their primary focus to filling those remaining spots, principally the third designated player one.
“We have been in talks with some of our targets and we're advancing with those,” signalled Curtis. “Like a lot of signings, it's a process, and until you have a deal done or something is signed, you have to continue on with that process. We've been very aggressive in that, making sure that we find the right player, the right fit. It’s fantastic that now Chris can be more integrated into that process in a clear way.”
“Not just a designated player, but also looking at other roster areas within the team,” he continued. “There's been multiple conversations, not just with a potential designated player, but also with other areas of the roster. We feel good about the team, it's a strong roster, but we'd like to add a designated player.”
“Once we have someone signed and ready to go,” he smiled. “We'll be sure to let you know.”
Curtis did say that talks with Pablo Piatti’s representation about returning for next season were ongoing.
The ability to balance big personalities with fostering internal development was one of the elements that attracted TFC to Armas.
“If you look at Chris's, not just coaching background, but also his playing background, he's a guy that has dealt with big players, has been in big moments, and knows how to manage through those,” said Curtis. “And he'll be excellent given the investment that we have in our player development model and helping to bring players along, especially some of those that got a taste of it in 2020.”
“2021 and beyond we’re very excited about,” he highlighted. “When you have some veteran players and you've got some young players trying to make their way, that's a real golden opportunity. And then it's not just a dichotomy of veteran players versus younger players. We've got some players in the middle like Richie Laryea, Marky Delgado, and Jonathan Osorio, and the list goes on. The roster is balanced, but for sure we'll make a few more changes before the season begins.”
Armas was one of the many coaches at the New York Red Bulls who helped Tyler Adams become the player he is, moving from MLS to Germany with Bundesliga side RB Leipzig.
“I have experience with young players and how to bring them along,” began Armas. “I'm not sure who takes credit for Tyler, he's just a gift and a gem from early on, but understanding that the young guys are hungry.”
“I spoke to Ali and Bill about this: I don't think you just have young guys and expect that they're going to learn from the older guys. Of course you want them watching and always learning through osmosis, absorbing it, but with the young players it has to be much more deliberate,” he continued. “It's for sure guiding them the right way, it's deliberately giving them some mentors. It's extra work after training, it's pushing them and making them earn their way around the team, and then rewarding them.”
“Young players have to play,” Armas stressed. “And as long as they're capable and in the right doses, they won't let you down.”
“In fact, I think in order to win and win consistently you need the young guys on a roster,” he elaborated. “You can't win without the veterans. These guys are critical to success because in playoffs, in big moments, these are the guys that we're following, but the young players bring energy – not just for pressing or style of play, they bring a freshness into a meal room, into a team, that is important.”
“I have delved into the roster, which was almost a job in itself, understanding more about Ralph Priso, Jayden Nelson, some of the younger players,” Armas added. “They're exciting players, they play with a freedom and excitement. It's important to find minutes for these young players and TFC has got some good ones.”
TFC Captain Michael Bradley spoke highly of Armas when the news was announced. The two spent a lot of time around each other when Bob Bradley was coaching the Chicago Fire where Armas was a player.
The two have already talked about the upcoming reunion on the training pitch.
“I have spoken with Michael and he reiterated so much of the good that was going on inside the club. It aligned with the conversations I’ve had with the leadership team,” said Armas. “It didn’t surprise me. It was important for me to hear some of what was in his mind and his heart and how he's so eager, really hungry to get back out there, really hungry to lead, really excited to work with me.”
“We spent some time talking about a few different things and there will be discussions with every player,” he continued. “I already have all of their phone numbers; I'll be hounding them sooner than later. This is important. My favourite part[s] of every day are getting to work, working with the guys, and getting home to my family.”
“I spend a lot of time with those guys. That work on the field, that's what it's all about,” Armas added. “So right away letting them know who I am, what I'm all about and starting that relationship straight away, that's happening as we speak.”