TORONTO – With a new coach comes a new way.
But with much of the Toronto FC roster from last season already in place, it will be a matter of emphasis rather than wholesale tactical revolution.
Chris Armas laid out his vision for the game when he was introduced last week.
“It's with energy. It starts with energy and passion,” began the new TFC head coach. “And if you watch Alejandro Pozuelo or Michael [Bradley], they play to win. I understand that. It becomes a way of working, a way of playing, a way of living.”
“It starts with the energy because now in a team it starts transferring player to player, player to coach, coach to player, and now you can start thinking about how to put that on the field. The supporters start to feel that, they can relate to that. It becomes, again without the soccer yet, an identity of that team is on the front foot, that team plays together, that team never gives in,” he continued. “And I truly believe that other teams feel it and they wonder, ‘How can that team operate like that?’ ‘How many guys do they have on the field?’ type of thing.”
“And now when you think about how goals are scored and understanding that so many goals come from transition, how can you create a game model, how can you create a philosophy that leads to that,” Armas elaborated. “So you start talking about with the ball trying to play forward and with some tempo in making the game fast. And of course there's little things in there – the principles of playing between lines and overloads and plus-ones and all of that that goes into it, but I do see the game in possession, making the game fast, playing vertical.”
“And with this roster with real intelligence and decision-making and some pause at times, but thinking about the verticality also leads to counter-pressing and you start developing this rhythm,” he added. “On the flip side, when you don't have the ball, it's all about taking time and space away and controlling spaces.”
“The easy one is high pressing, but I've learned in my time and evolved that teams are bypassing the high press,” Armas pointed out. “How can you become really good at a midblock or sitting a little bit deeper and controlling spaces, but still taking time and space away. It's pressing, it's compressing spaces, all with the idea of winning the ball and attacking again.”
“It's about making the game fast and it's about attacking football,” he summed up. “Attacking when we have the ball, attacking the opposition when we don't have the ball."
“And the last part of that is what I just talked about means nothing unless there's a team that sticks together, that runs for each other, that's willing to work. It's not about how much you can run, but it's about intelligent working, a team that's committed,” Armas highlighted. “And that's in training, it's in game, it's off the field. And I know what that looks like. I've experienced it as a player. I've experienced it as a coach. And that's an everyday thing. It's not an easy thing, but it's a winning thing, it's a mentality that I can't wait to inject into the TFC team.”
Ali Curtis, in talking about what he expected Armas to bring to the team, specifically mentioned raising the tempo. Something Armas himself spelled out when assessing where he could make an immediate impact.
“I do think the team can use an injection of intensity – not that the team didn't play hard,” he pinpointed. “With the ball it would translate to more verticality, not just possession-based but a real probing, always looking forward, finding guys between the lines and in gaps, in overload, and really trying to play.”
“Toronto, for me, played fast, but even more about tempo with the ball and then against the ball this intensity that just makes us harder to play against,” Armas added. “Some pressing at times, but for me it's so much more about reactions and habits. What I see defensively is becoming more stingy, harder to play against, harder to concede goals.”
Fans won’t have to wait too long to see how Armas’ vision translates onto the pitch as TFC are expected to report to preseason training camp in the coming weeks and have a big match on the immediate horizon.
The 2020 Canadian Championship Final against Forge FC, the winners of the Canadian Premier League’s Island Games, is set to be played in the first quarter of the year.
Armas is already sinking his teeth into that fixture.
“I've already asked tons of questions about this: when is the game? where's the game?” responded the coach. “You start looking at details of Forge FC, you see some MLS players that I know on that roster, started to research the coach... it's on my mind.”
“Finalize the staff and then it is Canadian championship. Let's get the team together, let's get the initial phase of onboarding, and get to work: preseason and then getting ready for that game,” Armas forecast. “That tournament is big for the club. Win that first part of it, which we don't take lightly, then we can get into the [Concacaf] Champions League and push. We've seen what the team has done in the past and they were right there. And that's the utmost priority.”