The inaugural MLS NEXT Pro season saw Toronto FC II start with an impressive first month of matches, winning three of their first five. However, a four-match skid during the Month of May reversed the progress they had made early on.
Head coach Gianni Cimini took it upon himself to look over what they were doing right and what they were doing wrong, ensuring the adjustments made would get the inaugural campaign back on track. Looking both internally and externally, Cimini and his squad sat down to discuss what it meant to be a player for the club, what it meant to wear the crest, and what sort of identity the squad desired. Eight matches on, TFC II have not lost a single match and are one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference – and all across MLS NEXT Pro. Their progress circles back to the squad sitting down together and creating a philosophy to play by.
“For us, it was to take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror to see what we can learn from our mistakes in the past. I think for us as a group… we came together to define what was really important to us. We came up with three core values that we wanted to live by in difficult moments and make sure that we truly hold ourselves true to those,” Cimini told MLS NEXT Pro.
Those three core values turned into the concepts of Resilience, Trust, and Purpose. Tactically, Cimini added he made adjustments accounting for pressure around their own 18-yard-box as well as being more composed in the midfield and in the final third. However, honing on who they desired to be as a club turned out to be “real powerful, in terms of what we learned.”
The eight-match unbeaten streak has seen Cimini’s side earn results against some of the top teams across the league, including Columbus Crew 2, Rochester New York FC and New York City FC II – the three teams that currently occupy playoff spots ahead of them in the Eastern Conference.
The run of results has TFC II thrilled with their form, but Cimini said that it’s important to be self-aware and to realize that there’s more work to be done every week.
“With the positive run of the results for us, we always talk with the boys about being content but not satisfied and fighting complacency,” Cimini said.
In the key Eastern Conference matches that the team has played over the summer, Cimini added that they “respect” their opponent's strengths and plan for them, but more than anything, he reminds his squad that they cannot abandon their ideals and identity.
“We had to know that we had to be prepared to play those types of opponents, particularly the ones ahead of us, so preparing for those games was a little bit about them, but a lot more about us… who we are, what our values are and what our identity looks like on the pitch.”
That identity circles back to the three core values that they came up with as a group. To Cimini, those values are just as important as the results on the pitch.
Resilience: “We define resilience as the next one mentality… to make sure that the moment that matters is the one in front of you.”
Trust: “Trust to do your job and trust that your teammates are going to do their job and trust that the guy beside you is going to do the job and you do their job and that's how we progress as a group moving forward”
Purpose: “We came up with purpose because purpose was about understanding what your goals are – it ties everything in. Understanding what your role is, what the moment is, and what success looks like in those moments. And if we can win the majority, the vast majority of moments that present itself in a football match then we know that we know that we will be in a good position to get the result.”
For Cimini, every time he and his squad step on the pitch, they’re presented with an opportunity to better themselves as both players and people. Every match presents a “different issue or different problem” but Cimini hopes that by sticking to their core values, holding each other accountable, and striving for greatness both on and off the field his squad will ultimately reach the goals they set personally and as a group.
For the 39-year-old Canadian, having the mindset that “every player matters” has helped him coach the group on this successful run. That mentality has served as an identity for Cimini and his coaching philosophy, as he believes that “it’s not just one through eleven… it’s one through twenty-two.”
Sunday's convincing 3-0 win over Orlando City B was the latest example of the now eight games unbeaten TFC II is hitting stride, and the Purpose portion of the game plan took center stage. Reshaun Walkes and Julian Altobelli entered the match while it was a scoreless deadlock, needing to make a difference, and ultimately combined to put up all three goals.
Week 21 will see TFC II hit the road as they take on Rochester New York FC once again. The No. 3 ranked RNY FC sit only one point clear of the No. 4 ranked TFC II – the contest will surely have implications on the playoff race come the end of the campaign. The Match kicks off at 7:00 pm ET on August 12, streaming LIVE on MLSNEXTPro.com.