Toronto FC takes on New England, looking to move ahead after coaching change

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Chris Armas has left the building, not by choice. Still, Toronto FC's former head coach was front and centre in absentia Tuesday.

Armas was axed the day after Saturday's humiliating 7-1 loss at D.C. United, which represented TFC's heaviest-ever margin of defeat. Toronto (1-8-2) has lost six straight, is winless in seven and languishes in the 27-team league basement.

"As players, as a team, as a club, you deal with the consequences with the aftermath of a (losing) period like this and of a game like that," captain Michael Bradley said Tuesday. "And obviously the hardest part is Chris pays the worst price — somebody who has done nothing but spill his heart and soul into the team and the club since the day that he got here.

"He's no longer with us and that's not easy to take. As players, as captain, you feel like you let him down, there's no two ways about it. We're all extremely disappointed and frustrated and angry for that. And so in moments like this there's no choice but to try to pull together and find our way out of a really difficult situation. We're the ones who got ourselves into it and we're the ones who are going to have to get ourselves out of it.

"There's no magic answers. There's no easy solutions. It's just down to the people on the inside, ready to work and read to claw ourselves out of this one game at a time."

Assistant coach Javier Perez is in charge, at least for Wednesday's match at New England (7-2-3). Toronto doesn't play again until July 17 and club management has not said much on the timing of a new coach.

Bradley, for one, is making no excuses, saying "We've let ourselves down on too many days."

"In a lot of ways Chris had no chance from the beginning," he added. "That's no fault of his own. We let him down and we still now have to find away over this next stretch to look hard at ourselves."

New England coach Bruce Arena said he expects to see a Toronto team "really ready to play" in the wake of the coaching change.

"I would not be surprised if at the end of the year they're a team challenging for the playoffs at the end," he added. "It's still early in the season … They have plenty of time to get a little bit of energy and move up the ladder.

"I think when I took over here in May of 2019 we were probably not in a whole lot better shape. So you can do it. They have a good enough roster that they're going to win games. So that's not the team I anticipated seeing Week 13 of the season."

Added Canadian-born U.S. international forward Teal Bunbury: "They’re going to coming out swinging."

"Don’t let these results fool you. I think they have a great team. They have a lot of depth, and I think their standing doesn’t reflect the quality of players that they have," said the son of former Canadian international Alex Bunbury.

Arena knows Armas well, having coached him with the U.S. team.

"Chris is an outstanding person, a good coach and I'm sure we'll see him again in Major League Soccer," he said, after referencing the problems Canadian teams have faced during the pandemic.

Things can hardly get worse.

Toronto has given up a league-worst 27 goals, including eight in the first 15 minutes (also worst in MLS). On offence, it ranks 25th in shots and 26th in shots on target.

The 44-year-old Perez, who joined the Toronto coaching staff in February, is making the most of a tough situation.

"This is the industry, where we are. This is soccer, this is football," said the Spaniard.

"It's very difficult to see someone like Chris go, because he's a good coach, a good person," he added. "But at the same time. experience prepares you for these kind of situations. You're a professional and you have to adapt. So the last three days, everything is about how we can help the players and the team prepare for the next game."

Perez spent the four previous seasons as an assistant coach with New York City FC. Previously he was with U.S. Soccer for four years, serving as head coach of the under-18 team and an assistant with the senior side and under-20 squad.

Before coming to the U.S. in 2007, Perez spent six years at Real Madrid as a head coach for its youth teams from under-nine to under-19.

His qualifications include a UEFA Pro Licence, UEFA “A” Licence and a Ph.D. in sports science from Universidad De Leon in Spain.

Toronto will be missing injured goalkeeper Quentin Westberg (finger) while fullback Justin Morrow (back) is listed as questionable. Centre back Eriq Zavaleta is suspended after being sent off in the D.C. debacle. Midfielder Jonathan Osorio and fullback/wingback Richie Laryea are away with Canada preparing for the Gold Cup.

Forward Ayo Akinola (Canada) and fullback Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica) head off on international duty after the New England contest.

On the plus side for Toronto, Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo and Venezuelan winger Yeferson Soteldo are both available after a stop-and-start season due to injury. Star striker Jozy Altidore, who has not played since May 22, remains on the outs with the club with no word whether Armas' departure might accelerate a resolution.

New England midfielder Tajon Buchanan and goalkeeper Matt Turner are away with Canada and the U.S., respectively.

Arena declined to say who would start in goal in place of Turner. Veteran 'keeper Brad Knighton, whose last start was March 7, 2020, may get the nod. The 36-year-old has 72 career MLS regular-season starts, including 19 for the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2012-13.

For New England, it's home sweet home.

The Revs netted just one point in a two-game road trip but return to Gillette Stadium looking for a club-record eighth straight win at home. Including the playoffs, New England has not lost in Foxborough since Oct. 19, 2020, when it dropped a 2-1 decision to Philadelphia.

New England, the only MLS team yet to drop points at home this season, is off to its best home start in club history (5-0-0).

For Toronto, Wednesday marks its 30th straight match on the road in all competitions since its last home game Sept. 1, 2020, at BMO Field. TFC is 10-15-5 over the stretch, with eight of the wins coming last year under then-coach Greg Vanney.

The good news is the travelling party returns home after the midweek game, at least to train and sleep in their own beds. Talks continue about returning to play at BMO Field, with the team not slated to play again until July 17. Club president Bill Manning says the club has a backup plan to play in another U.S. city, not its previous base in Orlando, if a return to BMO is not imminent.


TORONTO FC (1-8-2) AT NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (7-2-3)

Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET at Gillette Stadium

RACKING UP THE WINS: With seven victories this season, New England is one behind league-leading Sporting Kansas City for the most in MLS.

DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS: Through 12 games, the Revs are off to the second-best start in club history. Toronto is off to its second-worst start. In 2012, it lost its first nine games and was 1-10-0 through 11 games.

HOT HAND: New England forward Gustavo Bou has scored in five straight games with a goal, the longest run in MLS this season and two games shy of tying the Revs club record (set by Wolde Harris in 2000). The Revs are unbeaten when Spanish playmaker Carles Gil logs an assist (18-0-5).

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 6, 2021.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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