There’s been a number of people in and around MLS who believe that Greg Vanney from Toronto FC should not have been named Coach of the Year. Apparently “anyone” can coach this high salaried team of stars to the top of the table and earn more points in a year than any other team in MLS history. How little do those people know. His 180 minute performance in the Eastern Conference Final however, should put any doubters to rest. TFC’s 1-0 victory over a feisty and well organized Columbus Crew at BMO field may not be the dominant performance we have come to expect from the Reds, but it was a victory nonetheless and enough to take them through to the MLS Cup Final next Saturday, December 9th. Don’t underestimate how much of a hand Vanney had in the victory.
It has been said many times and in many sports that a coach gets blamed too much for a loss and given too much credit for a victory. I tend to agree to this rule, however, there are exceptions and this certainly is one of them. We won’t even talk about the first game in Columbus, where Vanney was missing ⅔ of his designated players and still managed to come up with a desired clean sheet. That coaching performance may have been easier actually as he had less flexibility. But with Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco back, Vanney had a healthy squad with so many decisions to make. He easily has 15 to 18 players who could start any game at any time. So who gets put in the starting lineup and which formation they play are huge decisions.
The Gregfather reigns supreme
Let’s hear it for your 2017 MLS Coach of the Year, Greg Vanney!
— Toronto FC (@torontofc) November 27, 2017
Vanney went with his common 3-5-2 formation with a bit of small twist. Instead of Marky Delgado, the TFC coach started Jonathan Osorio. Most of that decision was the recent confidence the Canadian has shown and his ability to press up field. Columbus were expecting this formation and their coach had defended in numbers and did well to thwart most TFC attacks. The Reds however, did have some offensive flair and did have a 26th minute penalty shot when Drew Moore was taken down in the box. With Giovinco missing three out of his last four, and Victor Vazquez a perfect three for three, it apparently had already been decided beforehand that Vazquez would take it. Vazquez unfortunately, is no longer perfect. That was the best chance of the first half for either side. Alex Bono who has been TFC’s best player of these playoffs by far, was not called upon to make any big saves, but was always at the right spot and time and in control.
Vanney was not happy how the Crew managed to shut down TFC’s attack for most of that first 45 minutes and certainly didn’t feel comfortable letting it end 0-0 and go to penalty shots. Therefore decided to make a substitution at halftime, bringing in midfielder Delgado to replace defender Eriq Zavaleta. He also changed the formation to a 4-4-2 diamond formation that he used earlier in the year. This new shape had Michael Bradley at the bottom of the diamond, Vazquez at the top and Osorio and Delgado on the wings. This formation put Vazquez closer to Giovinco and Altidore in hopes that their sublime talent can combine for something special. It didn’t take long as an injured Altidore scored the only goal of the series and it was a beauty. The ball was fed into Giovinco just outside the 18 yard line box where took a dribble, then a step and then a small back heel onto the path of Altidore. Altidore forwarded it to Vazquez who then completed the give-and-go back to Altidore inside the 18 yard box and the US international calmly slotted it into the far post. Brilliance.
Everyone knew however, that if Columbus scored, TFC would not advance. With Altidore forced to come off with an ankle injury, Vanny again switched things up. Instead of bringing in Tosaint Ricketts (another forward) he brought in midfielder Armando Cooper. If you have been keeping count (and I know you have) the lineup is now made up of 1 forward, 2 defenceman and technically 7 midfielders. Seems a little imbalanced right? But in Vanney we trust. With the substitution, the formation also changed again. This time looking more like a 4-4-1-1. Giovinco alone up front is still enough of a threat on the counterattack that it forces not one but two defenders to always know where he is. Cooper is very good at defending the ball in tight spaces and he was phenomenal during this game at not only winning challenges but keeping possession along the sidelines earning his team corner kicks and free throws.
With so many options available to him, Vanney perfectly chose the players and formation he felt best suited the situation. He then didn’t pigheadedly stick to just one formation like some former bench boss of the Italian national team (yep, I am still bitter about that one) he changed the formation to serve the immediate need. You need a brave coach to do that, and one who has complete trust in his players – and vice versa. That is why Vanney so richly deserves to be MLS Coach of the Year and why TFC deserve to be returning to the MLS Cup Final.
If there was any possible advice that I could impart on Coach Vanney before the big match is the Five P Rule.
Please Please Please Practice Penalties
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