1. Greg Vanney
When it comes to the start of the 2020 season, Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney has sort of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde mentality going on.
On one hand, Vanney does a dutiful job toeing the party line, lamenting the fact that his club is not participating in the Concacaf Champions League tournament this season as a result of losing the Canadian Championship last year to its 401 Derby rivals, the Montreal Impact.
The Impact will be representing Canada in the tournament this season — after two straight seasons (2018 and 2019) of TFC carrying the mantle. Competing in international tournaments is important to the organization, which Vanney completely understands, even if it’s not ideal in terms of getting prepared for the MLS regular season.
“We will always want to be there,” said the seventh-year TFC coach. “I think the players always want to be there because we always have players that are motivated to compete on the international level and at the Champions League level and that’s something that will always be a part of the DNA (of this club) — to have those types of guys that want that.”
On the other hand, Vanney is thrilled that he doesn’t have to rush a roster together to prepare for the annual Champions League competition. Last year, Vanney scrambled to get his hurting and incomplete squad ready for the Champions League opener in Panama on Feb.19 against C.A. Independiente de La Chorrera. The result was a disastrous 4-0 loss. A week later, the two sides clashed again, this time at frigid BMO Field, with the teams battling to 1-1 draw.
The Panamanians advanced on aggregate. After that, Vanney had to re-organize his club to get ready for the opening of the MLS regular season.
This season, it’s a completely different story.
“We feel like we’re not rushed as much,” said Vanney, whose squad departs for southern California on Wednesday for stage two of pre-season camp. “We haven’t played a pre-season game yet. We’re spending more time on getting our legs under us, physically getting our right foundation for the season, having a slower and more deliberate process to our game model and how we want to play this year.
“I also feel like the group is in some ways a little but farther along because of the continuity from last year to this year. But also the process has been very good and the guys have been really engaged,” the coach continued. “(That) doesn’t mean I want to not be in Champions League for the future. But for the time
being, we’re going to take it as it is and use the time wisely.
“We want to be consistent this year, we want to be in the Supporters’ Shield race, we want every game to be important and we’ll take our time to set ourselves up like that,” Vanney said. “We don’t have that (Champions League) that we have to concentrate on, on the side. That being said, we can go through the process (of getting ready for the season) a little slower, a little bit more deliberately and work on things. When we see things that need a little more time, we have a little bit more time. That’s positive in it’s own right. But we’re (always) shooting for Champions League.”
TFC’s pre-season schedule is broken up. Last week, the club was in Florida for a week-long camp. They returned for a few days and depart for Los Angeles this upcoming week and will remain in California until the season opener on Feb.29 in San Jose. Vanney was thrilled with how the Florida stage of per-season went.
“It was cold, miserable,” he said when asked about the conditions in The Sunshine State.
Breaking into a smile, Vanney added: “I’m just kidding. Just don’t want to rub it in. You guys were (stuck) here. It was great trip, the guys worked really hard. We got a lot of good, physical work in, good work tactically with the group. Guys were really, really pleased with the level of intensity and the work. I would say as good a week of pre-season as we’ve had in the time I’ve been here.
“Just overall the intensity level has not felt like the first week of pre-season. It felt like the middle of the season,” Vanney added. “It’s been highly competitive. Guys are pushing each other. There’s a great camaraderie with this group. They enjoy each other, but when we’ve stepped across the lines, they’re also challenging each other and demanding of each other and that’s been a little more unique.”