TORONTO – Game on!
Toronto FC will play their first match of 2021 on Wednesday night with the away leg of their Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 series against Club Leon at Estadio Leon.
It’s been a long, uncertain wait, but the opening whistle will soon blow.
“Total excitement,” summed up TFC captain Michael Bradley during Tuesday’s prematch press conference of the feeling in the group. “It's been a long offseason. Plenty of challenges to deal with along the way for everybody, both on a personal and individual level and also as a group, but when you get to this point everybody is just really excited to get going, really excited to step on the field and play a really big game.”
The match will be the first played under Chris Armas – the beginning of a new era for TFC.
“Will you see our team pressing? Yes. Will you see our team organized in a mid-block? Yes. Out of that structure will we be aggressive? Yes,” the new coach anticipated. “Will you see our team try to play quickly and vertical and with the ball, try to play with a tempo? I'm sure we will.”
Bradley wanted the action to speak for itself.
“Let's let time tell, let's let people watching see for themselves,” he replied. “We feel good about the work. We feel good about the way that we have come in and from the first day taken Chris’ messages and his ideas and gone with them.”
While there is an anticipation of some new elements, some things never change.
“90 minutes at a time,” reminded Bradley, asked about his expectations for TFC in the competition. “When you fall into the trap of starting to look ahead, look into the second leg, look into potential match-up in the next round, you can get yourself into trouble really quick.”
“Our total focus and commitment is on tomorrow night and the 90 minutes in front of us,” he continued. “And once we're through that then we'll start to take stock of where we are and how it went and what we liked and didn't like and get ready for the second leg.”
“This is still Toronto FC and we step on the field every single time we play, every single year, to win, to be a team that competes to win trophies.... Why would this year be any different?” Bradley levelled. “We understand that you don't become a good team in one game, you don't win a trophy in the first game of the season, there's no way that we'll ever get ahead of ourselves or start to concentrate on things that don't matter right now. So for us it's about 90 minutes and taking care of this game in the best possible way and moving on from there.”
Armas is focused squarely on the method.
“My expectation is that we step on the field with total belief and total togetherness and total clarity, and we go after it.... Go after it in a real way,” he stressed. “My expectation is for us to step on the pitch and stick to it and believe what we've been doing.”
“We did it the other night against Columbus,” Armas referenced. “We played their first team and we scored four goals. What I was most proud of [is] the guys were committed to that and they were clear and understanding everything we've been asking of them.”
“There's no predictions, there's nothing more than this ‘one game at a time, one series at a time’ approach, but there's a lot of belief that we have enough, that we can be in every single game that we play – no matter who and no matter where,” he added. “We're going to be aggressive and we're going to go after it.”
Still building into form and fitness for the new year, undoubtedly tough moments lie ahead.
Heat, altitude, on the road, playing in Mexico, all just more factors to be considered.
“Many things are excuses: not many games, fitness... no importante,” dismissed Armas to a Mexican journalist. “The most important thing is that we are together, we stay focused in the game.”
“We have to suffer together, we're always alert, and that we play for 90 minutes,” he continued. “We respect the team and we respect the coach and the way they play. And we understand that in the biggest games we need the highest level of concentration, every play from minute one to minute 90. Everything else is not important.”