TORONTO — Interim coach Javier Perez wasted little time putting down roots when Toronto FC finally came home.
Less than a week after returning north of the border earlier this month, Perez moved from the temporary digs the MLS club had provided to an apartment of his own.
He wanted to make it home.
“I thought that if I made that move I would show everybody that I’m here to stay,” Perez told reporters Wednesday. “This is my home now.”
He cited a T-shirt the club had given him upon arrival that read simply “Toronto is home.”
His new home is coming together on and off the field.
Perez said he unpacked his couch after Saturday’s 2-1 win in Chicago. All that’s missing now is his partner and their child, who are slated to join him soon from New York where he served as an assistant coach with NYCFC before joining Toronto.
Hired in mid-February to be part of Chris Armas’ coaching staff, the 44-year-old Spaniard left Toronto in late March for training camp in Florida as an assistant coach. He returned earlier this month as the man in charge, albeit with an interim label, after Armas was fired July 4 with the club mired at the bottom of the standings at 1-8-2.
Toronto is unbeaten in four matches (2-0-2) under Perez and now stands 11th in the 14-team East.
On Wednesday, Perez finally met the media in person.
In a small sign that normalcy is returning, albeit in pandemic baby steps, Wednesday’s training session was open to a small number of reporters for the first time since March 2020.
TFC spent most of the time since south of the border, first in East Hartford, Conn., and then Orlando due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. But with the rules easing for those fully vaccinated, the club is back home training and playing.
“We are a little bit still in a bubble,” Perez said. “The club has created this amazing environment for us. We are every fortunate because of that. But it looks almost normal right now.”
He believes that is helping the product on the field.
“Right now the atmosphere is really good. That transfers into the results, that transfers into the way we play.” he said. “At times maybe the games are not going to be pretty but all that counts is the three points in the end.”
Toronto hosts Nashville SC (6-1-8) on Saturday, its third game at BMO Field since returning home. Attendance will be capped at 15,000, as it was last time out.
Fullback Kemar Lawrence and goalkeeper Quentin Westberg both missed Wednesday’s training session for personal reasons. Lawrence is just back from international duty with Jamaica at the Gold Cup.
Centre back Eriq Zavaleta, back from Gold Cup duty with El Salvador, trained Wednesday while veteran fullback Justin Morrow – a late scratch from the game in Chicago – worked out on his own in the portion of practice open to reporters but is scheduled to return to full training Thursday.
Midfielder Nick DeLeon remains in quarantine after scoring on the weekend against Chicago. The league and its three Canadian clubs are seeking a National Interest Exemption that would provide for a modified quarantine for those not fully vaccinated.
Perez spent time with U.S. Soccer as a youth coach and assistant coach with the senior side after leaving Spain where he was a youth coach with Real Madrid.
With his UEFA Pro Licence and a PhD in sports science from Universidad De Leon in Spain, Perez brings plenty of qualifications to his coaching job.
He speaks Spanish and English, French and German — “all of them pretty bad,” he joked — with Spanish coming in handy with the likes of designated player Alejandro Pozuelo (Spain) and Yeferson Soteldo (Venezuela).
“Every tool you can use to communicate is always an advantage — for the coach, for the staff, for everybody,” said Perez.
He said he made the move to North America in 2009 after visiting New York City for the first time. He fell in love with the city but wasn’t sure what it held for a pro soccer coach.
“At the time, I would say soccer (in North America) was in its early days,” he said. “Now, and it’s very impressive how every year it’s becoming stronger and stronger — the league, the way everything has developed.”
Perez initially thought he might spend a year in North America. But he found a receptive audience at U.S. Soccer.
“It was more and more difficult for me to go back to Europe” he said. “So right now I’m in this position, which I think is a privileged one. And hopefully everything goes well for us.”
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press