Toronto FC's Jonathan Osorio, third from right, talks with head coach Greg Vanney, second from right, during the first half of an MLS soccer match against Atlanta United in East Hartford, Conn., on October 18, 2020. THD CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Jessica Hill

Despite chaotic season, coach Greg Vanney keeps steady hand on Toronto FC tiller

Despite chaotic season, coach Greg Vanney keeps steady hand on Toronto FC tiller

TORONTO — Going into the 2020 season, Toronto FC looked to build on the second-half surge that had carried it to the MLS Cup final last November for the third time in four years.

Consistency and continuity were the keywords for a club that had made minimal changes. Then the pandemic struck, changing everything — again and again.

“We had multiple seasons this year, I guess,” said coach Greg Vanney.

Somehow TFC managed to stay on course, thanks in large part to Vanney’s steady hand on the tiller. Despite having to leave home and play on the road, Toronto (13-5-5) finished with the second-best record in the 26-team league.

Toronto might have finished first, had it not been for a late spate of injuries.

Toronto’s ability to handle pretty much everything thrown its way this season has Vanney up for the Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year Award. Vanney, whose contract extension is expected to be announced any day, won the award in 2017 when Toronto claimed the Canadian Championship, Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup.

He is up against tough opposition this year.

Philadelphia’s Jim Curtin, a finalist last year when LAFC’s Bob Bradley won the award, led the Union (14-4-5) to the Supporters’ Shield, the club’s first-ever trophy. Oscar Pareja, honoured as top coach in 2016 with FC Dallas, helped Orlando City (11-4-8) to its first ever playoff appearance in his first year at the helm.

But neither faced the challenges that Toronto, and the other two Canadian clubs, did.

Toronto had to play all but four of its 23 regular-season games away from BMO Field due to pandemic-related restrictions. Despite that, TFC averaged 1.91 points per game — second only to its 2.03 points per game in the 2017 championship year and better than 2016 and 2019 (1.56 and 1.47, respectively) when it lost in the MLS Cup final.

A coach’s job description is all-encompassing even at a well-stocked club like Toronto FC. This year there was even more coming at Vanney — more than just helping find training sites or places to live.

“There was a lot more management, I would say, of people,” he said.

This year that included mental health management.

“Trying to keep guys motivated, keep guys working, trying to feel like what they were doing even at home doing Zoom training session was going to pay off at some point,” he said. “There was a lot of management of that side that was very different this year.”

He takes pride in how his club and players reacted to the challenges.

“There were a lot of moments when different people, the players, could have thrown up their hands (and said) ‘This is just too much or this is just too challenging. Why don’t we just put this season to be and move on with it?’

“It never did within our group,” he added. “We try to pride ourselves on being problem-solvers … The whole club, from top to bottom, everybody was great in staying in that mindset and trying to just move on from day to day and find the best scenario we could find in whatever the circumstances were.”

It helps that TFC is known for looking after its staff and players. While all clubs look to do what they can to ensure their players can focus on their game rather than off-field issues, Toronto often goes the extra mile.

With players coming from all corners of the globe, that can involve everything from finding a place to live to getting a Canadian driving licence.

The club raised that bar during the pandemic, helping fly in relatives to help take care of families while players were away. Meals were delivered. Pets were looked after.

“I don’t know every club and how every club operates. But over the years I’ve really seen this club just take care of people,” said Vanney, a father of four. “To understand people, understand the needs of people, be there to help solve problems for families and players so that they can focus on the task at hand and their jobs. And really go above and beyond to take care of the people that are involved in the club.

“Understanding if the people side is taken care of, then that gives the player side of it a chance to be at its best.”

Vanney, who likes to be involved with his players, says that also makes his job “so much easier.”

After a tempestuous lead-up to the 2019 campaign with Sebastian Giovinco, Victor Vazquez, Gregory van der Wiel and GM Tim Bezbatchenko all leaving the club, Toronto seemed headed towards calmer waters in 2020.

New deals for captain Michel Bradley, goalkeeper Quentin Westberg and key defender Chris Mavinga augured well. As did the signing of Argentine designated player Pablo Piatti.

News in January that Bradley needed ankle surgery to repair an injury sustained in the MLS Cup final in Seattle was a bump in the road, magnified when star striker Jozy Altidore questioned the club’s handling of the injury. Piatti’s debut was also delayed by injury.

After extending its pre-season stay in California for the Feb. 29 season opener in San Jose — a 2-2 draw — Toronto downed visiting New York City FC 1-0 on March 7. The team and the world then went into pandemic lockdown and Vanney’s club did not play again until July 13 at the MLS is Back Tournament in Florida.

After exiting in the round of 16 in a 3-1 loss to NYCFC on July 26, Toronto faced another wait. The club did not see action again Aug. 18, when it began a six-game all-Canadian portion of the schedule.

Toronto played the final 12 games of the regular-season south of the border, with Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford serving as its home away from home.

TFC will host its playoff games there, starting Nov. 24 against one of the play-in game winners.


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov 16, 2020

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

Girls soccer

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Red Deer hits 304 active COVID-19 cases

Six new deaths were reported in Alberta

Clearview Public Schools had slight enrolment increase in September. (Image from Facebook)
Positive COVID-19 test reported at Stettler high school

An individual who was at Wm. E. Hay Stettler Secondary Campus has… Continue reading

(Advocate file photo).
Woman ‘beyond frustrated’ by Red Deer College program’s volunteer requirements

Teddie Briggs says she was “beyond frustrated” after learning Red Deer College’s… Continue reading

Hugh Danielson and Brayden Watts, of Red Deer are trying to spread the word about a new innovation for wheelchairs that they think will be especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Brayden Watts)
Red Deer company lands exclusive patent rights to wheelchair extension

By some small miracle, Hugh Danielson and Brayden Watts stumbled upon a… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Employee at Bethany CollegeSide in Red Deer tests positive for COVID-19

An employee at a Red Deer continuing care facility has tested positive… Continue reading

Teresa Kutynec, Red Deer Christmas Bureau president, dressed up as Mrs. Claus during the Charity Checkstop on Saturday. The event supports four nonprofit organizations: the Christmas Bureau, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Red Deer Food Bank and Women’s Outreach Centre. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Charity Checkstop raises money for nonprofit organizations

Red Deerians supported four local nonprofit organizations without even having to leave… Continue reading

The commemorative plaque is seen on the outside wall at the Polytechnique in Montreal, on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. Sunday will mark the 31st anniversary of the murder of 14 women in an antifeminist attack at Ecole Polytechnique on December 6, 1989. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Scaled-back, virtual ceremonies to mark 31st anniversary of Polytechnique killings

MONTREAL, France — The anniversary of the attack that cut short the… Continue reading

A man wears a face mask as he skateboards along a street in Montreal, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
COVID-19 cases hit new records as Tam urges perseverance, promises vaccine on the way

Canada’s top doctor urged cautious optimism — and a healthy dose of… Continue reading

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Manitoba judge rules church can’t hold drive-in services forbidden by health order

WINNIPEG — A Manitoba judge has rejected a church’s request to hold… Continue reading

Homeowners Cora and Alec Dion pose in the basement of their home in Fort McMurray, Alta., on May 8, 2020. More than seven months ago, the Dions were forced to flee Fort McMurray for the second time in four years as a spring flood threatened their home. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Halinda
Fort McMurray residents still cleaning, considering options after spring flooding

‘It’s worse than just having water, because it’s ice mixed in with the water’

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. Anand says as soon as she knows when the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will arrive on Canadian soil, she will share that information with the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Negotiating contracts for vaccines in development needed flexibility: Anand

Health Canada officials are days, maybe even hours, away from approving the COVID-19 vaccine

Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota rises in the House of Commons, Wednesday, May 13, 2020 in Ottawa. nbsp; THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Speaker Rota reflects on first year presiding over unprecedented virtual Parliament

‘It’s not what I signed up for but it is what it is’

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s $17 million Lotto Max draw

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the $17 million jackpot… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Hay’s Daze: Not used to seeing giraffe with a mask

My bad. Now there’s an expression that used to stick in my… Continue reading

Most Read