On a recent road trip to Los Angeles, Toronto FC equipment manager Malcolm Phillips found himself spending the day after the game in a local laundromat.
A few hours and a roll of quarters later, Phillips had the MLS side ready to roll for the next stop in El Salvador.
“If you’ve been doing it long enough, you kind of know where all the laundromats are,” said Phillips.
An equipment manager in MLS since 1998, the 47-year-old Brit could probably write the book. And if he needs anything on the road, there is always the brotherhood of equipment managers to help him out.
Phillips’ job description probably would take volumes to catalogue. He and assistant Sacha De Almeida are TFC’s MacGyvers, doing whatever needs to be done to make sure the team is ready to play.
“Probably one of the most important roles in the football club,” manager Paul Mariner said of Phillips’ job.
“I don’t think there’s anybody better,” he added. “When you consider hail, rain, sleet, whatever, mud – the gear’s hung up and ready to go in the morning. Smells beautiful.
“The staff appreciate him. I’m sure the players appreciate him.”
During his days with the New England Revolution, Mariner worked with an equipment manager whose nickname was “Stealth” because of his ability – like Phillips – to do things under the radar.
“These guys are a separate breed. They’re a unique breed and the football club would probably come to a standstill (without them),” Mariner said. “The players are very lucky to have Malcolm.”
They show it via jokes and gibes but it’s clear there is real affection towards Phillips. Plus, the players know that when they need something, chances are Phillips will know how to get it.
These days, Phillips and De Almeida are enjoying the creature comforts of the club’s new training centre in northern Toronto.
Their lair is filled with shoes, uniforms and other gear – including a machine to personalize jerseys.
“Fourteen years, I’ve never had anything like this,” Phillips said of the shiny facility. “It’s been a long time.”
Phillips, who looks like he might be an entertaining companion on a night out, brings an array of talents to the tables.
Take laundry, for example. And imagine you have 28 kids who go out and play in a field every day.
In a back room at the training centre, 55-pound capacity washing machines are hard at work while 75-pound capacity dryers await their load.
There’s laundry to do every day – twice a day in the pre-season.
The preferred Phillips way is to wash everything on cold, unless a hot wash is needed to get rid of a tough stain.
Uniforms dry on low heat. Towels on high heat. Throw in a jersey on high heat and the names and numbers will stick together.
Phillips usually arrives at 7 a.m. – well ahead of the normal 11 a.m. practice time –and leaves around 4.
“Usually first in, last out,” Phillips said of he and De Almeida.
He may work seven days a week, although off days for the players are usually just an in and out. But Phillips, who is single, goes about his days with a grin.
“I love it,” he said of his job The weather is all-important to an equipment manager. Lousy conditions make for more work.
“We love the sunshine days,” he said.
A native of Southampton, England, Phillips has been with Toronto FC since Day One. And he has been associated with the MLS since 1998, starting with Tampa Bay before moving to San Jose.
Tired of life in England, he moved to Tampa where he had friends.
He was working in a sports bar in 1996 when MLS was formed. One of his regulars liked to talk soccer and one day Phillips asked how he knew so much about the sport.
The customer told him to come see his van outside. It was filled with Tampa Bay Mutiny uniforms. Turned out he was the team equipment manager.
Phillips asked if he needed help and volunteered with the team for two years before taking over the job himself in 1998.
Only the current Chicago Fire and Los Angeles Galaxy equipment managers have served longer in the league than Phillips.
Phillips still has ties to Southampton and returns there every December to see family and friends. A longtime Southampton supporter, he has a season ticket that a friend uses when he is on the other side of the Atlantic.
“I must be mad,” he said with a smile.