Goalkeeper Milos Kocic was answering reporters' questions outside the Toronto FC locker-room Tuesday morning when it became clear he was needed elsewhere.
His teammates had headed to a nearby room at BMO Field for a players-only meeting in the wake of a fourth straight MLS loss. A team official hovered by the media scrum, trying to politely intercede. But the questions continued.
Then out came impatient captain Torsten Frings to reclaim his goalie. The former German international gave Kocic a “let's wrap it up” gesture and the scrum was over.
On and off the pitch, Frings runs the Toronto FC show.
The good news for manager Aron Winter is that Frings is now just “a couple of days” away from returning from the strained hamstring that has sidelined him since the season opener in Seattle on March 17.
“It's not going to take weeks with him,” Winter said of his 35-year-old defensive stopper.
“He's very close to coming back,” he added.
Asked if Frings could play Saturday against visiting Chivas USA (2-3-0), Winter replied: “That, we have to wait (and see).”
But when Winter was asked if he will be popping the champagne at seeing Frings back, the Dutch coach turned serious.
“No, no, no ... I'm popping the champagne at the end of the season when we make the playoffs and we have got good results.”
Still, he welcomed the imminent return of his captain.
“Torsten is very important for the team. It's not only about his qualities, technical and tactical, but also about his leadership.”
Like the luxury German automobile he drives, Frings is a thoroughbred. And when he talks, players listen.
His English is ever-improving, as witnessed by a recent “What's up bro” to a colleague as he walked on the pitch at BMO Field.
The team declined to make Frings available Tuesday.
At 0-4-0, Toronto needs something to kickstart its season. Despite reaching the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, Winter's side has yet to register a point in MLS play this season.
The team has been outscored 9-2 in four league games — although six of those goals were conceded in its first two outings. Toronto also has yet to lead an MLS game this season.
Winter's position is the club is playing well but paying the price for defensive mistakes and not converting its own chances in front of goal.
Critics might respond that good teams find ways to win. Toronto has done that just once this season, compiling a 1-5-2 record in league and CONCACAF Champions League play.
Like a parent with a wayward child, Winter manages to be hopeful, disappointed, perplexed and understanding about his team all at the same time.
But he has added to his shopping list of discontent in recent days.
While never one to name names in public, he has said some players have let the team down at certain moments. And he has tangentially suggested that some veterans have not stepped up in Frings's absence.
He also noted he did not see “the fire” in his players until it was too late in Saturday's 2-1 loss in Montreal.
“The confidence is there, but we're missing something,” he said. “We're trying to figure it out, to be sharper on certain things. But it's not a good start, it's a very bad start.
“I'm still confident, I've got all the belief with the other games that we have, that we're going to get a lot of points to get to the playoffs.”
Winter has said he will make changes. Asked whether that will come from inside or outside the squad, he replied “both.”
Giveaways have cost Toronto FC dearly recently.
“The goals we concede are just ridiculous,” said Kocic.
In Montreal, the Impact scored after midfielder Terry Dunfield's pocket was picked and defender Ty Harden failed to clear the ball properly.
Players respond to such errors in different ways.
“That's part of football,” said Dunfield, adding “mistakes are going to happen.”
“I wish I could say I could just forget it but of course I've thinking about it — especially the second goal in Montreal — that's all I've thought about for like the last three days,” said Harden.
Winter has no answer for such errors.
“I don't know exactly why, but it's not good,” he said.
Such giveaways are a cardinal sin in a 4-3-3 system designed around ball possession.
“We're trying to mimic Barcelona and Ajax and all that stuff. If you want to mimic them then you have to keep the ball,” said Kocic who did his part with some artful distribution from the back.
“What's really the point of playing this system if we're not doing the right things?” be added.
Tuesday's players-only meeting was nothing special, according to defender Richard Eckersley who says such gatherings are held regularly.
“The message was ‘We're all in as a team and we're going to show that Saturday.“’
Despite the recent run, players insist morale is good.
“This is one of the tightest groups of players I've ever been part of,” said Dunfield.
Added Eckersley: “I believe in this team. I think we've got a great team spirit. Eventually, if we just be a bit patient, it will all come good.”
After five games in 14 days (an 0-4-1 run that included a trip to Mexico), Toronto players now get to sleep in their own bed and take part in a full week of training.
“Saturday to me is like a clean slate,” said Eckersley. “We're starting again.”
But Kocic has not forgotten one bit of Toronto's bad start.
“You don't want to get into that mentality of losing games and I feel like it can easily go the wrong way if we don't step up on the weekend and understand that we have to score goals, we have to possess (the ball),” he said.
“There are no more excuses,” he added.
NOTES — Winter says defender Adrian Cann, back from a serious knee injury, could play Saturday. With emergency MLS pool goalie Brian Rowe now on duty in Portland, Toronto FC has elevated 17-year-old academy goalie Quillan Roberts to the main roster. Rowe is expected back in Toronto after Portland's goalie ranks return to normal.
Follow us on Twitter: