Toronto FC’s Greg Vanney named MLS coach of the year
Reds boss honoured after record-high regular season.
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Little more than three years after taking the reigns as Toronto FC coach, Greg Vanney is already the most successful boss in franchise history.
Since signing on as an unproven coach on the last day of August in 2014, Vanney, now the longest tenured Reds’ manager, led his team to their first taste of playoff action and an MLS Cup final in his first two years. This season, Toronto earned an historic record on the way to its first Supporters’ Shield win, and now sits within one game of a second straight final.
It’s a lot of success in a short period of time for the 43-year-old native of Virginia. On Monday, Vanney added another feather to his cap, getting named MLS Coach of the Year for 2017.
“I’m proud but honestly I think it’s an honour that is bestowed upon me because of the quality of our team, the quality of our staff, the support of our management,” Vanney said on Sunday. “When I say team, for me really, this whole club is a team and I do my job within the structure of the team. I take it very serious and I come to work every day to try to learn and be the best that I can to challenge our guys to take the right steps forward.”
Taking the right steps forward after last year’s disappointing MLS Cup final loss to the Seattle Sounders could have been a difficult task for Toronto, so Vanney broke it down.
First order of business was to assess needs from a player perspective: the team brought in midfielder Victor Vazquez, a playmaker with an eye for the final pass, and defender Chris Mavinga, a left-footed centreback with natural athleticism.
Then came the matter of staying ahead of the curve while maintaining the team’s identity. For the Reds, that meant growing within a 3-5-2 formation that helped them through last year’s playoff run.
The third piece — maybe the most important, said Vanney — was motivating a team who was “that close” to the biggest prize to look at the whole season — not just the playoffs or the final — as important.
“We set goals and achievements, but a lot of it is a discussion about what kind of attitude and what kind of character does it take to really achieve those things. That, to me, is the most important discussion because the only way you achieve goals is if you have the right attitude every day when you go out to work,” he said.
Having the right attitude is something defender Drew Moor has seen from Vanney just about every day the two have worked together, a relationship that began as teammates at FC Dallas more than a decade ago.
“A lot of people are going to say, ‘He inherited a great team that spends a lot of money and has the best designated players in the league,’ but it’s so much more than that that Greg does,” Moor said. “He has confidence in players one through 30. He’s the same guy he was 13 years ago when I met him with FC Dallas. He’s extremely focused, a student of the game, knows the strengths of his team, knows the weaknesses of his team and does everything he can to get the absolute most out of players.”
The standard Vanney sets for the locker room can pay dividends come playoff time, Moor said.
“On past teams I’ve played for this time of year, you have guys that realize that they’re probably not going to play and they can be a deterrent to the team in training sessions and when you’re travelling on the road,” Moor said. “That doesn’t happen here.”
Moor credits Vanney with making Toronto better every season since his arrival, a difficult task given the quality of his players and the season the Reds had last year. Vanney chalks that up to continuity he has been afforded over the past few seasons.
While he said he has changed “a ton” since 2014, some things remain the same — like his relationship with Reds’ assistant coach Robin Fraser, who he called the biggest influence on his coaching career.
“When I met him in (1996) as a player until today, there hasn’t been many days that have gone by where we haven’t discussed the game in one way shape or form,” Vanney said. “Not to say that either of us have all the answers, but the two of us have always been seeking and learning and discussing and evolving.”
Learning, being a student of the game, is Vanney’s purpose. Losing that mindset would mean the end of his coaching career.
But he’s a long way from that yet.
“As you get more experience you gain more confidence, you gain more insight into the things that you’re doing and I think all of those things have helped me to mature as a coach,” Vanney said. “I still think there’s a long way for me to continue to go. My goal is always to be the best version of a coach that I can be and that’s what I ask of the players as well.”