Jason Bent – Meet the Man at the Helm of TFC II
City Life sits down with Jason Bent, head coach of TFC II, Vaughan’s first professional sports team
An oppressive wind dominates the Downsview Park Sports Centre on a sun-soaked Tuesday morning, but Jason Bent remains calm. The head coach of TFC II is seated in a video room at the Kia Training Ground, only days away from the club’s inaugural season, his first at the reins of a professional soccer team. It was big news when it was announced that TFC II, the USL affiliate of Toronto FC, would play its home games at the new field presently being constructed at the Ontario Soccer Centre in Vaughan, and to say expectations are high is an understatement. But despite the pressure, Bent maintains an unflappable cool. City Life sat down with the poised footballer-turned-coach to discuss how he’s been preparing the team for its opening season and what the city can expect from its first professional sports team.
Q At the official announcement of the team back in January it was said that a big focus of TFC II is to prepare players for the first team at the MLS level. If that’s a key goal, how would you describe your approach to coaching this team?
A “It’s sort of a guided-discovery approach, where we don’t want to give them the answers to everything. So we do a lot of technical training, we do a lot of tactical training — there’s always a physical component within that. We also do the individualized training for small groups or units of the team. For example, central midfielders working together, strikers and wing players working together, fullbacks and the back four working together, the back four with the goalkeeper working together. So, we try to get specific things to their game, not only individually but in units of the team. Video is also a big component of the way we want to help and develop the players, and that’s from the first team straight down into the USL program. Greg Vanney and myself are both of that mind state where we know that video can be very beneficial if used in the right way. So it’s constructive criticism, but also praising them when they do things well and it’s important that they see that.”
Q So you’re working quite close with Greg Vanney, head coach of TFC, then?
A “Yes, I worked under him last season as an assistant coach, so I got to see what his vision for the game was, how he thinks about things, how he wants to train the players. Coupled with my own style, which is not too dissimilar, we’re trying to train the players and make sure that they understand and get the same message. Also, the first team trains before the USL team on a daily basis, so the majority of the training sessions I’m out there watching the first team and making sure I’m hearing the same message as well to try and make sure that filters to the USL squad.”
Q It’s got to be a great motivator for the younger guys to be able to see the players from the TFC at work. Have you seen that benefit during pre-season training?
A “Yeah, there are guys that take interest in it. They’re not here that early on a daily basis, but when we were down in Florida we made sure that when the first team had games that we went to go watch the games as well. It’s maybe not so commonplace in North America, but in Europe it’s a standard thing. Academy players or amateur players 100 per cent go and watch the first team play games. It’s all part of the development.”
Q Is there an element of mentorship between the first team and the USL team?
A “One thousand per cent. They were down in Florida eating in the same room and you could see that it wasn’t just the first team players sticking to themselves at their own dinner table. They would mix in. I would see [Jozy] Altidore sitting with Raheem Edwards, and Manuel Aparicio sitting at the same table and just having conversations. Yes, they look up to them and they’re older, but at the same time they’re human beings and they’re good people, and if you engage them in conversation and ask them certain things then I’m sure they would have a sense of that role that they need to give back as well. And that’s from Altidore to Mark Bloom to Michael Bradley — it doesn’t really matter.”
Q This is obviously the first year for the TFC’s USL team. For a coach, what are the biggest challenges to build from the ground up in this way?
A “What I just have to say is bringing together a squad. You’ve got players at different ages. You’ve got academy prospects that are coming up through the system. You’ve got draft picks that are slightly older but still forging their first opportunity into professional football. And then you’ve also got players that are younger that have been involved with the first team that are already pros but haven’t really got the match experience yet. So it’s blending those three pods of players into one to get them on the same mentality, the same concepts — that’s probably the biggest challenge, because each of those groups are at a different stage. And as we progress through the season you’re now dealing with college players that have typically dealt with three-month seasons, now going into 10-month seasons, almost pretty much full-time training and playing games and travel, and all these factors can weigh on players. For us, it’s going to be how do we manage that probability to make sure that we have the players operating at an optimum level.”
Q When Clement Simonin was drafted first overall, many thought that pick came from left field. What are your thoughts on him?
A “For people that weren’t in the know, yes, it came out of left field. Our staff had seen him down in the Las Vegas combine, where there were only two teams there, Seattle and ourselves, so he did quite well, which went a long way in us deciding to draft him. He’s a cultured player. He’s French but he’s got a sort of very confident way about him. He’s got a very, very good left foot. His passing range is pretty good, and something you don’t really see out of the college level. He’s also a left-footed centre-back, which makes him very appealing in terms of the way we want to play, because we’re trying to build up from the back. If that’s the way you want to play you’ve got to have defenders who can pass the ball, and he’s certainly one of them. We’re just trying to work on other aspects of his game to bring him up to speed. But we see he’s got potential.”
Q You were born and raised in Brampton and now you’re playing a key role in Toronto’s premier soccer franchise. What does that mean to you to be a part of developing the sport in the city?
A “Well, I mean, first and foremost we have to be thankful to MLSE for investing the funds to have this sort of vehicle to test these kids in. For me, it’s something that the development structure’s been crying out for. Hopefully we do it by design now rather than by luck. When I came through the system we had nothing remotely close to this. And a lot of it was by chance, by luck and by situation. And now we have an opportunity, by design, to set something up that will hopefully — not hopefully, we know — will help not only Toronto’s football club but Canadian footballers and Canadian soccer associations. So I think it’s great.”
Q Soccer is such a massive sport in a community like Vaughan and people are really excited for this season. What can they expect to see this year?
A “We want players to play for the name on the front of the jersey rather than the back of the jersey. A team with passion. A team with a thought process of how they want to play the game, how we want the game to look. Those are the things that I hope the people of Vaughan can recognize and see the steps which we’re trying to take. It’s all a process. We’re trying to develop the footballer to be thinking like footballers and to improve as players, and we think that’s going to come out. It’s the process that ends up leading to the results in the end. We also want those Vaughan supporters to recognize these players so that when they move on to the first team they can then go and support them at BMO Field and say they were there when they were just forging their way in their career. And that’s hopefully the end result that we’re looking for.”