TORONTO – Nick Dasovic aspired to be a professional head coach. But it was unlikely that the opportunity would come this early, this way, he thought.
On Tuesday, Toronto FC cleaned house and dismissed head coach Preki and director of soccer Mo Johnson. Then, TFC named Dasovic interim head coach, entrusting him with the tough task of salvaging the club’s downward spiraling season.
The former Canadian international said yes and thank you, and is looking forward to the difficult task ahead.
“I’m ready to take the challenge,” said Dasovic, the first Candian to lead TFC. “I’m honored to even be considered and to have the chance to lead this group of guys. We’ve got a great group of gentlemen in that room and I think we’ve got a great chance.”
Holdover coaches Leo Percovich, Danny Dichio and Mike Toshack will serve as his assistants.
Dasovic is in his third season with TFC and second as first-team assistant after serving as head of TFC’s Academy. The 42-year-old takes over a team that’s five points out of the final playoff spot and mired in a six-game winless streak that threatens to leave them out of the postseason for the fourth straight year.
“The guys seem energetic in there,” said Dasovic, "we want to get into the playoffs and we want to get into the Champions League, so it’s about keeping everyone positive keeping the guys focused on what we’re about to do and they seem ready to go."
His first game as head coach will be Wednesday at Real Salt Lake in a critical CONCACAF Champions League group-stage match. Though tagged with the interim label, Dasovic clearly stated he’s in the running to be the full-time coach, and a win in this match would go a long way in helping him secure the job.
“I don’t want to leave Toronto,” said Dasovic when asked about his interest in the job full-time. "I plan on being here for a long time."
That decision, though, will ultimately come down to the outcome of this season and the incoming manager, who will be hired after an exhaustive search that begins immediately, according to Tom Anselmi, executive vice president and COO of TFC's parent company, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd.
Prior to joining TFC, Dasovic spent five years in the Canadian National Team program as an assistant coach with the men’s senior national and U-20 national teams.
His only head-coaching experience came in the CONCACAF men’s Olympic qualifying tournament with Canada’s U-23 men’s team, which he barely failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, losing to the US in the semifinals.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Will Johnson, who scored three goals for Canada in that tournament, feels “Daso” is a player’s coach and has what it takes to succeed in MLS.
“I think he’s got great qualities,” says Johnson, who faces his former coach on Wednesday. “He can be a high-level coach. He knows when to put his foot down and be serious and he can also be loose and get the players to perform at a very high level.”
“He was a coach you can always talk to you could sit down and have a chat with, but he was also a guy who was also an authority figure at the same time,” continued Johnson.
“If somebody needed a kick in the butt to get themselves going, then he would be the guy to bring it; and if somebody needed a pat on the back, he was there.
D.C. United defender Dejan Jakovic, who also played on that Canada U-23 team, echoed similar sentiments.
“Nick’s a professional,” said Jakovic. “Just the way he interacts with players – there’s certain ways. You can be too nice sometimes and then you can be too harsh and too strong.
"You have to be able to know how to treat your players, but just for the little bit of time I was with him, I thought the training sessions were great.”
Dasovic, a native of Vancouver, played professionally in Croatia, Canada, France, Sweden and Scotland. Internationally, he played for Canada between 1993 and 2003, appearing in 63 matches, good for sixth all-time.
It’s this experience and the amount of knowledge of the game Dasovic accumulated during that span that Johnson says will be invaluable for the new Toronto coach.
“He has a high soccer IQ and that can go a long way for him,” said Johnson.