TORONTO, Canada—Things are little bizarre with Toronto FC right now, and overseeing all of it—the club’s poor start under new head coach Chris Armas coupled with a disgruntled star—General Manager Ali Curtis and his staff have a lot to dissect.
In a 1-on-1 sitdown with John Molinaro of TFC Republic on Tuesday, Curtis shared his views on TFC’s slow start to the season, the job Armas has done so far, the Yeferson Soteldo injury, as well as, of course, the Altidore situation.
Here are some of the key parts of that interview:
When you look back at the first seven games of the MLS campaign, what are some of the things that have stood out the most for you about your club?
[laughs] What hasn’t stood out! You have to look at everything, so it’s not just the first seven MLS games; it’s also about Champions League and our pre-season. It’s been a challenge. Everything has been uphill. But I’m really optimistic with the other 80 per cent of the season ahead of us. Whenever you come in with a new coaching staff, there’s transition and there’s change, and sometimes with that transition, the wheels aren’t always going as fast as they need to be from the jump.
Our situation is unique, I feel, more than any other club in MLS. We changed coaches, we changed a coaching staff, but also our performance staff, so there was a lot of turnover compared to the other Canadian clubs - Montreal hired a new coach from within. On top of that, we were a team that was preparing to play a Canadian Championship game in March, but because of quarantine and border restrictions, we had to prepare for that game in Canada. Unfortunately, we had an outbreak of COVID, which stopped training. And then we found out we weren’t going to play that game for the time being, so we migrated to Florida. There’s been a lot of stop and start. It was a very fragmented pre-season, and I think that has manifested itself in a lot of different ways, in terms of injuries and continuity. So I’m excited about this break.
Obviously, we’d like more wins and to be higher up the table. But there’s 80 per cent of the season remaining, and the team has a more clear idea today than it did from the start of pre-season in terms of what we’re trying to achieve and how we’re trying to achieve it. I’m optimistic and excited about the rest of the season. We have a very talented roster, and it’s important that we just come together as a team, and I think we can meet all of our objectives.
I get what you’re saying, but this can’t be the start to the MLS season you envisioned for your club. Can you diagnose what some of the problems have been?
We haven’t been as healthy as we’d like to be. We’ve had a lot of injuries. Alejandro Pozuelo just got his first MLS minutes last weekend. We’re a different team when he’s on the field. Then there’s been other key players who have been missing. We’re hopeful that we’re going to have those guys back and we can get the results we need to get to go where we need to be.
I liken it sometimes to 2016 when I was the GM of the Red Bulls; we started the season worse. We started the season 0-and-6 - we lost all six games at the start (Note: New York actually lost six of its first seven games; it won its third match of the season). We had a moment where we were able to have a conversation and a talk, and we finished the season first in the Eastern Conference. I think we have an opportunity to reset here, and that’s exciting. We have a really good team, but we just need to execute.
Through 7 matches, Toronto FC are off to their worst start to an MLS season since 2012. But with 3 weeks off and some much needed time for players to recharge and refuel, are things really as grim as they seem?https://t.co/6ptKYlzjkB pic.twitter.com/AgmvGsckTw— Michael Singh (@MichaelSingh94) May 31, 2021
How would you evaluate the job Chris Armas has done thus far?
I have tremendous confidence in Chris and the coaching staff. It has not been easy because of the challenges that exist being in the Champions League as a Canadian MLS club during COVID. I don’t think that’s been easy; that’s been very, very difficult. We’re all going through this for the first time, and we’re trying to manage different situations and manage the team. We added three talented newcomers and are excited to see them on the field at some point, in Kemar Lawrence, and Yeferson Soteldo and Dom Dwyer. We still haven’t been able to see them on the field at the same time.
So, it’s been a combination of all these very difficult variables of training in Canada, the COVID outbreak, the Champions League, Canadian Championship called off, moving down to Florida — all those variables are very, very, very difficult. It’s also challenging, if not near impossible to articulate, the extent to which they play and manifest themselves in results. Now, at the end of the day, it’s important that we go out on the field and execute, and we understand that. But sometimes these things take a little time. We have most of the MLS season in front of us, and we’re looking forward to attacking it.
How confident are you in the tactical changes Chris has made? Does the poor start to the season suggest a new approach is needed? Or do you stick to your tactical guns for now?
Teams that do well in pre-season don’t necessarily do well in the regular season. Teams that do well at the start of the season don’t always finish strong at the end. There is a strong belief in Chris and the coaching staff, and what they are doing and how they’re doing it. It’s important that you lay out a plan and you stick with it. Now at the same time, you have to adjust to different scenarios and different matchups, but as a club we’re completely supportive of how we go about approaching each game. It’s important that we execute and find a way to win games, and focus on that. We have a body of work that we can look at, identify, study and analyze, and then find solutions. Hopefully those solutions will come with more healthy, quality players at the coach’s disposal.
What’s (Yeferson Soteldo’s) injury status? Is there an update as to how long he’ll be sidelined by this thigh injury?
Usually after 10 days or so, you do a second evaluation and you get a better sense of timing in terms of when he could return. I don’t want to put a date on his return; ideally, you’d like to see him back this month at some point. It’s early and it’s important that we continue to give him treatment and time to heal, and then that second evaluation will give us a better barometer in terms of the timing.
How did he suffer the injury? Was this something he was carrying since he first joined up with the team? Or was it a new injury he suffered while training down in Florida?
It was something that happened in Florida. Whenever you get a new player, you also get to learn a little bit more about them, how they train and their pain threshold. You learn about players through this process. He was carrying a little something in his leg, but he has a really high tolerance for pain. Especially as a new player to a new team, he’s excited and wants to help the club and show what he’s about. In that sense, he was probably playing with a little bit of a strain, and that strain got worse. He alerted us and we were able to shut him down. I’m glad we caught it when we did, and we’ll go from there. I’m really excited to get him back healthy. He’s a young guy, so hopefully he will heal quickly. We’re not going to push him or rush him back.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about Jozy Altidore. Is there an update on his status with the club? What can you tell me about what’s going on with his situation?
Nothing has changed over the last few days. It’s a situation where we’d like to have a solution internally, and I don’t think it’s fair and I don’t think it’s right to talk publicly about the situation. Jozy has been with TFC for a long time, and in that sense, as a club we want to do things in a respectful way. At the same time, you’d love to be able to give fans and media as much information about what’s happening as possible, particularly because Jozy has been part of the club for so long - people want to know what’s next and what’s going on.
The reality is that sometimes there are some things that need to be solved in the locker-room. Once we solve our situation with Jozy in the locker-room, then for him and for us, we’ll be in a position to share a bit more details in terms of where we are moving forward. Hopefully, we’ll be there soon rather than later.
A club legend, icon, 'Mr. TFC til' I die': Jozy Altidore’s legacy will forever be enshrined in the history of Toronto FC. But after his latest clash with coach Chris Armas, could his reign as one of the faces of the franchise really be coming to an end?https://t.co/zqvDEaT82I pic.twitter.com/Hft6HSEGDI— Michael Singh (@MichaelSingh94) June 2, 2021
Is there a timeline by which you’d like to get this resolved? Is the goal to resolve this during the break, one way or another?
We have the benefit of the break going on, so we’ll take full advantage of that opportunity. At the same time, I do think it’s important for coaches, for players, for fans, for everyone involved to have clarity moving forward in terms of what we’re doing. The sooner we can do that, we believe that’s the best thing to do. At the same time, you don’t want to rush things. So, we’d like to have a resolution. I spoke to Jozy’s representation (on Tuesday), so there is a line of communication, and we’ll try to find a solution sooner rather than later. We don’t want to rush it, but we also recognize that it’s important that everyone has clarity, and then we move forward with strength because our goal this year is no different than last year, and that’s to win an MLS Cup. Everything we do has to be geared towards that objective, and every decision we make is geared to that objective.
This was just a portion of the full sitdown Molinaro has with Curtis, and you can read the interview here. Friendly reminder that TFC Republic is a subscription-based website, but with insight like this, we highly recommend you subscribe. It costs only $8 for a one-month subscription, or $50 for a full year (prices include 13% GST/HST).