Ali Curtis hired his buddy. That is how the news of Chris Armas reportedly becoming the new Toronto FC head coach is being received by large portions of the club’s fanbase.
The other prevailing feeling is one of being underwhelmed. After Curtis boasted about his phone ringing off the hook with inquiries about the Toronto FC job, not to mention rumours of massive European names like Laurent Blanc and Patrick Vieira being in the mix, this isn’t exactly a blockbuster hire.
That doesn’t necessarily mean this was a bad hire. After all, for all the talk about Toronto FC going out and acquiring a big name in the coaching world and securing its “big club” status, that’s rarely a recipe for success in this league. Successful coaches, like Armas and the man he is replacing as Toronto FC head coach, Greg Vanney, tend to have experience and understanding when it comes to all of the eccentricities of MLS.
What it is does mean is that for better or for worse, this is officially Curtis’ team now. Armas was hired because he was the coach that can best translate Curtis and Bill Manning’s vision of this club and where it is going onto the field. That brings with it all kinds of pressure, but also an opportunity to get the club entirely on the same page.
The Curtis era in Toronto FC has so far been reasonably successful. He brought the club to an MLS Cup final in his first season in charge, and last year through a heavily Covid-disrupted season, they finished second in the league having played only three true home matches all year.
But through all of that, there was an underlying feeling that maybe the club was pulling in two different directions. This wouldn’t be the first time Curtis and a coach have had “creative differences”, as a conflict of vision with Jesse Marsch was reportedly part of the reason why he left the New York Red Bulls.
Greg Vanney, as we all know, was insistent on playing with wingers despite the fact that Curtis didn’t always include very many in his roster build. There were all the young signings that Curtis made that almost never found a way into Vanney’s XI. The team that was being built and the team that Vanney played always seemed slightly out of sync. How much that played into Vanney’s departure remains to be seen.
Of course, as @joshuakloke and I have mentioned, there was a sense around MLS that Ali Curtis and Bill Manning wouldn't want a coach who would demand a lot of roster control. Not getting more control was part of why Vanney left, from what I'm told.— Sam Stejskal (@samstejskal) January 13, 2021
Armas probably isn't that guy.
Given their past relationship and the way Armas coached the Red Bulls, there should be a lot more synergy now. This will undoubtedly put Toronto FC a step ahead in player recruitment as Curtis and Armas should largely be on the same page for most additions.
It also means the team will probably play a more “Red Bull” style, actively hunting down the ball and playing maybe more on the front foot than in the past. Armas teams didn't actively employ the press in traditional Red Bulls’ style, but was certainly more all-action than Toronto’s possession-based tactics under Vanney.
The reds have a lot of the pieces to do that: Jonathan Osorio, Marky Delgado, Michael Bradley, Liam Fraser, Ralph Priso and Pablo Piatti, should he return, are all excellent pressers of the ball. But it would likely mean adding more pieces up front who are capable of chasing down defenders.
This hire is also one that, clearly given reaction, isn't going to get much benefit of the doubt. Curtis and Armas are both going to have to prove to Toronto FC fans, and to the league at large, that their hires were the right decision for the club.
No Toronto FC coach has ever inherited the team in a better position than Armas, but also none have had bigger shoes to fill. Armas will be out to prove that with a better, more expensive lineup, he can coach a team to sustained success in this league.
Curtis, meanwhile, has put the target for all criticism squarely on his back. This comes after a year where the man who Curtis replaced, Tim Bezbatchenko, lifted MLS Cup this year with his new Columbus Crew side. There are still those who would suggest that Curtis’ success with Toronto has largely come down to him inheriting what Bez and Vanney already built. If that doesn’t put a chip on his shoulder, who knows what will.
Nothing about whether this was a good hire or not will be decided today. No coach, or general manager for that matter, can be judged before their team steps on the field for an extended period of time. Nothing said, either way, will change that fact.
What we do know, is we are now going to fully see Toronto FC play as Curtis intends them. We are finally going to get a clear look at the contents of Curtis’ binder, and whether or not the blueprints translate into success on the field.