TORONTO – Benito Floro pops his head out of his office and barks a few commands at a nearby colleague as a long workday comes to a close earlier this month.
That colleague is his son, and the commands come in rapid-fire Spanish, delivered in the lovingly disciplinary style that only a parent can deliver. Antonio Floro works as an assistant coach under his father, who took over as manager of the Canadian men’s national team last summer.
The younger Floro accepts the directions in the begrudging style that only a child can provide. Then Benito turns his attention to a reporter paying him a visit at the Canadian Soccer Association’s offices within Toronto’s BMO Field.
After a welcoming handshake, Floro asks, “What language do you speak?”
When the reporter tells him English, Floro leans in with a wry smile and asks, “Is it Canadian English?”
While Spanish is predictably the native tongue of the 61-year-old – whose 35 years of coaching have taken him to five continents and high-profile clubs such as Real Madrid – he has been steadily working on his English since taking over as full-time manager in August 2013.
He’s often spurned using a provided translator during media conference calls, instead choosing to communicate directly with reporters (with mixed results). But during a recent one-on-one chat with MLSsoccer.com, Floro demonstrated that the stubbornness has paid off, with a mostly flawless conversation aided only slightly by a Spanish-speaking CSA employee sitting in as a linguistic safety net.
It’s been a steep learning curve over the past nine months for both Floro and his team, as Canada find themselves mired in a 14-game winless run dating back to October 2012. In five games under Floro, the team has one draw and four losses with zero goals scored. They’ll get their next chance at picking up points in a pair of friendlies later this month against Bulgaria (May 23) and Moldova (May 27) – and Floro believes that the team, despite recent troubles, has turned an important corner.
“After nine months [on the job], what I can tell you is we have finished gaining knowledge about the players, the quality of the players,” Floro said. “Now we are in good condition to prepare the 18 to 22 players to be more competitive, in the next friendly games, in order to prepare for the next World Cup.”
Floro has cast his net far and wide in search of talent during recent training camps, including a January camp in Florida that relied heavily on untested North American-based youngsters. While the manager speaks highly of the upcoming crop of Canadian talent – a number of whom featured in Canadian Championship games earlier this week – he isn’t necessarily ready to throw them into the fire just yet.
“It’s difficult because [many] young players don’t play as starters anywhere,” he said. “For example, in Vancouver only Russell [Teibert] plays as a starter. Now, in Montreal, [Karl] Ouimette. In Toronto, there are three or four players. But it’s not enough.”
Floro knows the change won’t happen overnight, and says that until Canada’s next crop of youngsters gains sufficient playing experience at the club level, he’ll continue to rely on experienced veterans such as Atiba Hutchinson and Julian de Guzman to keep the national team competitive.
As for where he hopes those youngsters will gain that playing experience, Floro makes clear he’d prefer it to be closer to home.
“I like MLS … it’s a very good level; physical, tactical, it’s very good,” he said. “For me, it would be the most appropriate situation that the majority of international players play in MLS. We can have, say, five to seven players, pretty good players, playing in Europe because they are competitive leagues.
“But now it is the opposite, with a lot of players outside Canada. So it is difficult to control. … For us, MLS is the solution.”
As for the disappointing results the team has posted thus far in his tenure, Floro chalked it up to two things – the coaching staff taking the time to identify the team’s core for the future, and the players taking the time to adjust to new tactical approaches.
“It’s important to teach players how to play with minimum changes; so, how to defend and how to attack in the same way,” he said, noting that in the next two years, “we have very important official games, especially the Gold Cup, and taking advantage of the Gold Cup to play in the [Copa América Centenario].”
If Floro’s approach to implementing a new tactical style is as dogged – and as successful – as his attempts to improve his language skills, then the next two years may indeed bring brighter days for Canadian fans.