TORONTO, Canada—Following what was undoubtedly a tough and perhaps cringe-worthy conversation that took place on Sunday morning, Chris Armas stood up, looked Bill Manning and Ali Curtis in the eye, and hugged the two Toronto FC executives and proceeded to thank them for the opportunity.
The former TFC head coach had been relieved of his duties after just 15 matches in charge of the club, a decision even he understood.
“It was really difficult to see Chris not succeed here,” said TFC President Bill Manning, addressing media Sunday afternoon. “Again, difficult circumstances that we’re under, but it just wasn’t happening—and he understood it. He understood the decision. He was a class act. He was a class act on the way in and he was a class act on the way out.”
Well, it’s what many had been calling for and now here we are. Good morning Toronto FC fans. Let the post-Armas era begin. Here’s my latest TFC Notebook.
Why Chris Armas ultimately got sacked
There’s a multitude of factors that go into making a big decision like this one, but first and foremost, this was a decision that was about results, or a lack thereof more specifically.
Toronto FC had just one win from 11 regular-season games, were riding a six-game losing streak and a seven-game winless streak. Something had to give, as Armas said in his postgame press conference on Saturday, and unfortunately for the former New York Red Bulls’ man, it was him that would give.
The former TFC head coach had been on the hot seat for a few games, dating back to June 19 against Orlando City SC.
While Armas had been backed by the club publicly on June 14 when Manning and Curtis addressed media following the Reds dismal start to the campaign, behind the scenes, pressure was beginning to mount for the new head coach to start earning results.
The very next match out of the three-week break was the aforementioned June 19 match against Orlando, and the team would proceed to drop a heartbreaker, a 3-2 defeat after battling back from an early two-goal first-half deficit.
“There was a point, I think after the Orlando game, I said ‘Chris, we just need to do whatever it takes to get results right now,’ said Manning. “And he got it, he understood. We had those three games in seven days, lost two of them late, and we didn’t have a good performance against Cincinnati, and obviously (the DC) result.”
It started to become less so about the fact the team was not picking up results, but rather, in what fashion they were losing the games, and the ship really began to sink after the team fell apart against Nashville SC on June 23, when the home side came back and scored two goals late to win the game 3-2. That performance was followed by a woeful showing against FC Cincinnati, before the final nail in the coffin was that 7-1 drubbing at the hands of DC United.
While Manning wouldn’t outright admit it, and despite captain Michael Bradley’s public backing of Armas on Saturday night, there was a growing sense that the head coach had lost the locker room. From speaking to some of the players at different points this season, in my opinion that had been the case for a while.
“Whether it’s losing the locker room, losing the players, this and that, I’ll let you all decide,” said Manning.
One more tidbit on this front that I believe is worth mentioning was that Manning was willing to acknowledge that there was a lack of cohesion between Armas’ high-pressing, high-intensity style of play and the current roster in place. Essentially, this was a team that was not made for Armas-ball — and it showed.
“I think what happened here was that a system/style of play that was in place for a long time has had a very difficult time changing to a new coaching staff to a new style of play,” added Manning. “And so, we are expecting this roster to play better than they are, so we are going to challenge whoever comes in to provide that spark to this group of players who knows how to win.”
So who will be coming in?
Who will take the reigns from Armas?
This move alone could go on to define the remainder of the Manning-Curtis era. The pressure is on, there’s no more shield, they need to get it right.
Curtis revealed to media on Sunday that current first-team assistant Javier Perez will take the reigns for TFC for Wendesday’s match against the New England Revolution, who currently lead the Eastern Conference by the way. That does not mean that Perez — who I will have more on shortly — will be the team’s interim head coach moving forward.
After Wednesday’s match, the team will have a 10-day layoff between games. Ideally, the club is hoping to have a long-term replacement in by then, after the Gold Cup break. But if that isn’t the case, depending on how Perez fares on Wednesday, there’s a possibility that the team names another interim head coach in the meantime.
After acknowledging that Perez would be the coach on Wednesday, without precisely labeling him as the interim head coach, here’s what Manning had to say when he was asked a follow-up on the matter, specifically on how he sees their coaching search playing out:
“We’re going to look to have an interim in place for the time being and then as we move forward, see that how that goes,” said Manning. “And then make a more longer-term decision as we see how it plays out.”
For a long-term solution, I’m expecting Toronto FC and Manning to go big here. As mentioned, the pressure is on for the team to get this decision right, they’re backed by an ownership group that is willing to spend, and after going for a smaller commodity in Armas this offseason—when there were rumblings of bigger names available—it makes sense that if this team wants to be perceived as a big club, if they want to try and earn that reputation back, they’ll try and hit a home run with this decision.
The question remains, however, who’s available and willing to take on this challenge?
Meet the man who will be in charge on Wednesday
For now, let’s turn our attention to the person who will be charge on the touch line on Wednesday: Javier Perez.
Perez was brought on as an assistant coach by Armas and the club this past offseason after spending four years as an assistant with New York City FC (2016-2020). He served as the TFC’s first assistant. The native of Spain began his coaching career with Real Madrid’s academy, working for six years as a youth coach in the prestigious club’s youth system.
After electing to move to the United States, Perez spent four years with US Soccer, serving as head coach of the U-18 Men’s National Team and assistant coach with both the U.S. Men’s National Team and U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team He also had stints as part of the senior men’s national team’s staff at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and the U-20 squad at the 2015 U-20 FIFA World Cup in New Zealand.
As mentioned, if he puts in a heroic performance on Wednesday and somehow rallies this team to a result against New England, there’s a possibility that we do see more of Perez on the touch line moving forward.
Could Jozy Altidore now return for Toronto FC?
It appears Toronto FC and Jozy Altidore are heading towards a reconciliation after the team parted ways with Armas on Sunday.
Altidore and the former TFC head coach infamously got into a spat at the end of May that resulted in the Toronto FC legend being exiled from the team and told to train on his own. Here is what general manager Ali Curtis had to say when he was asked about how Armas’ dismissal effects the Altidore situation:
“We’ll have those conversations with Jozy,” said Curtis. “I mentioned, made a comment to another journalist a couple of days ago that I think that there were some more, increased conversations between Jozy and his representation over the last week. We’ll probably have a conversation with Jozy tonight, as well as I spoke with Javier about Jozy earlier today to figure out what the path moving forward looks like.
So, stay tuned in terms of what next week looks like. Of course, we’ve got the game on Wednesday, but then the game after that is on the 17th. And so I don’t want to say anything before first having a conversation with Jozy, but once we have those conversations with Jozy, I’ll be able to give you a better update of what that next game will look like.”
I’ve heard that the conversation with Altidore Sunday evening went well and there’s a growing sense here that the Reds’ No. 17 will be re-joining the club. While Wednesday’s fixture will be too soon for the American striker to be involved, keep an eye for a potential reunion between ‘Mr TFC til’ I die’ and the club as soon as July 17 vs. Orlando.
Returning home to BMO Field
Speaking of that July 17 game, as I’ve been reporting for almost a month now, Toronto FC are indeed preparing to return home to BMO Field as soon as July 17.
Manning told reporters on Sunday that those who are fully vaccinated, sorry Nick DeLeon, had been given clearance to return to Ontario and train.
“Look, it’s been a long time,” said Manning. “It’s been a grind. We’ve been (in Florida) for months on end. So, we’re fairly pleased that the border restrictions have eased. So we’ll be back on Thursday after the game against New England on Wednesday.”
Manning would go on to say that he’s optimistic that Toronto FC would be given the green light by government officials to return to BMO Field for the July 17 match against Orlando, however, noting that nothing had been officially finalized yet.
“I am optimistic,” said Manning. “I think there are good discussions and things with the pandemic are going in the right direction. You’re seeing more and more things open up, so I feel that our protocols that we have in place to host games at BMO Field is very strong, and I’m hoping that we can, and this next week will be really important to kind of finalize those discussions and hopefully get a positive decision on that end.”
I’m told that those protocols do include playing in front of fans at a limited capacity. Currently, Ontario regulations permit up to 25 per cent capacity in outdoor stadiums.
Manning did mention that if for whatever reason they did not get the green light to return to BMO for that July 17 match, the team would not be playing at Exploria Stadium. They do have another backup plan to host the game in the United States, but Manning refused to specify where exactly.
Hopefully, all goes well this week, and the Reds will be coming home.