Toronto FC executives Bill Manning and Ali Curtis lauded Chris Armas as a good man, a top professional. It’s partially why they hired him as Greg Vanney’s replacement in January. But a poor run of form, punctuated by the worst loss in club history, led them to a decision they didn’t want to have to make: relieving Armas of his duties as head coach early on Sunday.
A 7-1 loss to D.C. United on Saturday night was Toronto FC’s sixth consecutive defeat. The same club that chased the Supporters’ Shield late into the 2020 season sit last in Major League Soccer with five points from 11 matches.
After the latest defeat, Armas addressed the media, saying “something has to give” for Toronto to break out of their malaise. Ultimately, he became that change.
“The way we have been losing, especially since returning from the three-week break, has been very difficult to watch,” Manning, Toronto's president, told media Sunday afternoon. “And when you see a team concede like we did yesterday, we just saw no way back outside of making the coaching change.”
Manning was distressed by the Reds “finding ways to lose.” He said he addressed the situation with Armas following a 3-2 loss to Orlando City SC on June 19 in which the Reds conceded the decisive goal in the 84th minute.
“I just said, ‘Hey Chris, we just need to do whatever it takes to get results right now.’ And he got it, he understood,” Manning said. “But we had those three games in seven days, and lost two of them late, and then didn't have a good performance against Cincinnati and then obviously this result. The results were not there.”
“For me, especially after last night's game, it was clear as day that we needed to make this change,” Manning added. “It’s unfortunate. Chris Armas is very good man. But we have to win.”
After reaching an agreement late Saturday night, Manning and Curtis met with Armas in person Sunday to render their decision — an emotional meeting for all involved.
“It's just very difficult because you see a man who is a good man and would do anything to get wins for this club, but it just wasn't happening. And that's when, again, as an executive of this club, you have to make really difficult decisions,” Manning said. “The fact that he stood there and he looked us in the eyes and he hugged us before he left, and thanked us for the opportunity, just tells you so much about who he is.”
Manning said Toronto’s struggles can be chalked up to core players being unable to adjust to a new tactical scheme after years of playing a different way under Vanney, who's now leading the LA Galaxy.
Defensively, Manning said Toronto FC have been “leaking goals” and have been “too soft.” A strong defensive core has been a staple of Toronto FC’s success in recent years and it’s been sorely missing in 2021. TFC have conceded a league-high 27 goals through 11 games.
“You can't win when you're conceding two-plus, three goals a game,” Manning said. “And so certainly we have to shore things up defensively. That, to me, is the most important thing.”
Armas’ tenure will also be remembered for a rift with Jozy Altidore, which has resulted in the star forward training on his own for more than a month. Curtis said he had conversations with Altidore and his representatives last week, and planned to again speak with him Sunday night.
The GM also discussed Altidore’s situation with Javier Perez, who was on Armas’ staff and will lead the team against the New England Revolution for Wednesday's game (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), although a decision on a regular interim coach has yet to be announced.
“Of course we got the game on Wednesday, but then the game after that is on the 17th,” Curtis, Toronto's general manager, said. “I don't want to say anything before having a conversation with Jozy, but once we have those conversations with Jozy, then we'll be able to give you a better update as to what the next game looks like.”
There’s also a chance that their next home game is at BMO Field, Manning revealed. He confirmed the club will return to Toronto to train following Wednesday’s matchup at Gillette Stadium and they won’t be playing home games at Exploria Stadium, home of Orlando City, going forward. Canadian MLS clubs have set up camp stateside due to travel restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic.
“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,” Manning said, while also mentioning a backup US-based location is in place, although not finalized. “I feel that the protocols that we have in place to host games at BMO Field is very strong. And I'm hoping that we can. This next week will be really important to kind of finalize those discussions and hopefully get a positive decision on that end.”