TORONTO – A new wind is stirring around the BMO Training Ground.
Toronto FC had their first training session of the 2021 preseason on Wednesday under new head coach Chris Armas, who spoke to the media afterwards.
With the hope and promise of a new season ahead, it’s a special time of year.
“Preseason doesn't get old to me. It's just such a great time,” said Armas. “The energy that players come with, the enthusiasm that the staff has brought, and an injection and intensity that everyone came with.”
“I would use ‘intensity’ and ‘energy’ to describe what it was like, even in the video room, as we kick started things,” he continued. “The players, on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of intensity, was a 25, so I might have to ramp things down a little bit, but what a good first day.”
“We’re still getting through a few guys with physicals and some guys were following protocol with quarantine, so we're almost at full strength,” Armas added. “We're close.”
He was joined on the training pitch by his coaching staff, who were officially announced that day.
Javier Perez, Ian Russell, and Ewan Sharp have been brought on as assistant coaches, while Jon Conway, who joined the first team staff in 2014, will remain in place as goalkeeper coach.
“I'm grateful that I have a staff that has taken the leap with me, to join the effort and do our best to add to what's gone on around here,” began Armas. “Javier Perez has some really interesting experiences – I'd say in general that the staff has diverse experiences. He's been with the [US] National Team with Jurgen Klinsmann, he's been with Domenec Torrent and Patrick Vieira on their staff at NYCFC, he spent six years in Real Madrid, he speaks Spanish perfectly, and eloquently if you ask me. He's got a really good way with players, he's got a real understanding of the league.”
“I was looking to surround myself with someone that has some really interesting qualities,” he continued. “He has a really good football brain, teams that have been built in possession and counter pressing and intensity, so he's going to add something really unique to my skill set.”
“Then Ian Russell, who is a different kind of profile: he played in the league, at a high level with top players, the Landon Donovan’s, the [Chris] Wondolowski’s. He's been in the system, he's been a top player, has experienced winning at a high level and also as a coach now for the last four years at Reno [1868 FC],” Armas detailed. “It was really interesting mirroring [San Jose Earthquakes’ Matias] Almeyda’s system: the all-out pressing, the man-marking system.”
“He's got a lot of good insight against the ball, out of possession, and really taking away time and space, and he's implemented that. And in that his team set records for scoring goals,” he highlighted. “He was a winger himself, an attacker, he brings some really good personal connections with players, he was a player himself, and then he also was a coach who understands what a head coach has to think about.”
“Ewan Sharp, as I told the players this morning, they're going to realize quickly that he's got such a good football mind,” Armas stressed. “He came with me from my last job and I got to see that he delivers excellence every day. He's a guy that hits those standards, setting examples of how to work, how to treat people.”
“And then when you talk about the football he's really comfortable in the style of play that I plan to implement: the intensity, the verticality with the ball, taking time and space and being organized in each part of the [field],” he added. “He's really comfortable with this and he brings a unique skill set.”
“We’ve rounded it out in a good way with those guys and then you cannot not mention Jon Conway,” concluded the new head coach. “He's a guy that stays on board, gratefully for us. He's got big experiences with this club as a coach now, as a player. You can see already how much he cares, how much he knows, the respect that he's earned around here. I'm really happy with the staff that we have right now.”
2020 was a year that will be remembered for its challenges. Both the standard ones of the usual campaign, but also the unique ones it presented. 2021 will be the same, but different.
A new season is both a fresh chapter and a continuation of the story.
“When you have a team that has been together for a long time, when the core of that team is still by and large intact, then it's normal and natural and only right that feelings from last year carry over – both good feelings and not so good ones,” said TFC captain Michael Bradley. “But at the same time, it's a new start.”
“Chris has come in with his staff; has set an incredible tone right away in terms of who he is, what he's all about, the energy that he's going to bring every day, the mentality,” he continued. “And now starting to get to work with what we're going to be as a team, building on the things that have made us successful, but also understanding that there's still more there for us. And can we add to it and can we continue to build and improve and push ourselves forward in an even stronger way.”