Consider it a starting point.
Toronto FC, in their first game since relieving Chris Armas of his duties as head coach, prevailed for a 3-2 win over the Eastern Conference-leading New England Revolution on Wednesday night, entering the brief Concacaf Gold Cup break on a high note.
They snapped a six-game losing streak and seemed inspired by the simplified structure assistant coach Javier Perez, leading on an interim basis, provided at Gillette Stadium. And it’s a building block that kick-starts their attempt to climb out of last place in the Eastern Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings – an uncharacteristic vantage point for a club that made three of four MLS Cups from 2016-19, winning in 2017 as part of a treble.
“We've not been in a good way, so when you can come to one of the best teams in the league right now and walk away with three points, that's a great feeling,” midfielder Michael Bradley said. “Obviously combined with the fact that we're heading home tomorrow, the energy is good and the feeling is really positive right now.
“We understand it's just one game, we've put ourselves behind the eight ball in a pretty good way, so we've got some real work to do. We understand that. But we're excited and you've got to start somewhere. Tonight was a really good step in the right direction and now we'll get ourselves back home and recover, mentally [and] physically from this one and get ready for a big stretch.”
Toronto have spent the first 12 chapters of their 34-game regular season living in Florida, a stateside leap all MLS Canadian clubs have taken to account for travel restrictions amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. That’s certainly taken a toll and factored into Armas’ departure, though club president Bill Manning expressed confidence over the weekend that a BMO Field return could be nearing.
Just from a mental perspective, Perez feels that could give Toronto a major lift as they try to rescue their season. Last year, TFC also played most of their games away from home while challenging for the Supporters’ Shield, ultimately falling just behind the Philadelphia Union. In between, former head coach Greg Vanney departed to lead the LA Galaxy and Armas came onboard following an up-and-down period in charge of the New York Red Bulls.
“It's been a really challenging time for everybody, players as well as staff,” Perez said. “They need to go home. They need to see their families. Some of the players, they have never been in Toronto. They need to settle down.
“So they are going to have some days off. They are going to come back happy to the training facility we have waiting for us in Toronto. We have an amazing stadium, and hopefully we have, as well, the fans waiting for us in the stadium. And that's what they need, just some days off to settle down.”
Against New England, Toronto benefited from two of their three Designated Players – Yeferson Soteldo and Alejandro Pozuelo – starting together for the first time. Soteldo, signed in late April from Brazilian side Santos, was just competing with Venezuela at the Copa America. And Pozuelo, last year’s Landon Donovan MLS MVP, has worked his way back from persistent injury to slot into his usual No. 10 role.
Soteldo finished with one goal and one assist, sparking their first-half scoring outburst with a clever steal off Revolution backup goalkeeper Brad Knighton in the ninth minute. And Pozuelo pulled the strings, as the Spanish midfielder has so often done since arriving in 2019 from Belgian side Genk.
“You want to be a good team in this league, you want to be successful, you need your best players, your most important players to be on the field and to play at a high level,” Bradley said. “That is no secret. For different reasons now, we've played the majority of the season with none of our DPs on the field. Again, that comes for different reasons, but that's the reality. In our case, our DPs are some of our best attacking players.”
Toronto are still competing without DP forward Jozy Altidore, who’s spent weeks training on his own after a disagreement with Armas. It’s unclear if Altidore will work back into the matchday squad now that Perez is leading the way.
Whatever comes, TFC can take inspiration from handing New England their first home defeat of the year – doing just enough to stave off a Carles Gil-led comeback attempt. When they return July 17 against Orlando City SC, we’ll see if this was the new-coach bump or a shift back toward what’s expected of the club (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+)
“It meant everything,” said midfielder Tsubasa Endoh, who bagged a 24th-minute game-winner. “You know, collectively, individually, honestly – it was much needed. We played hard. We came out strong. I mean, it was just we gave it all and it's something that we showed on the field.”