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Editorial: The Legacy of Greg Vanney with Toronto FC

Learn about Greg Vanney and his legacy with Toronto FC. Vanney took over a team that never made the MLS Cup playoffs to a MLS Cup contender.
Greg Vanney MLS Cup Final 2019

Column — Greg Vanney has recently announced he is departing from Toronto FC. Vanney came as head coach in the latter part of the 2014 MLS season. In that season, the drama with Jermain Defoe was continuing and Toronto yet again failed to make the MLS Cup playoffs.

He changed the organization around by winning everything in 2017 including the Voyageurs Cup (one of three won under Vanney), the Supporters’ Shield and the 2017 MLS Cup.

Greg Vanney and what he meant for Toronto FC

The Early Years of Greg Vanney

Greg Vanney took over a team that was going to miss the MLS Cup playoffs yet again in 2014. Furthermore, he had to inherit the Jermain Defoe drama that was playing out in the 2014 MLS season. As a result, they did not make the MLS Cup playoffs for eight straight years. To make matters worse, fellow Canadian MLS clubs Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the Montreal Impact had already made the MLS Cup playoffs despite Toronto being the first MLS team from Canada.

However, 2015 ended up being the start of the golden era of Toronto FC soccer. According to ESPN staff, Sunderland gave an unspecified amount of cash and Jozy Altidore in order to acquire Jermain Defoe from Toronto. They also dropped Gilberto and brought in Sebastian Giovinco as the second designated player.

These two players — along with their other designated player Michael Bradley — were the core of Toronto’s championship success. They ended up losing in the MLS Cup playoffs to the Impact, but the seeds of the team were being planted.

Championship Contending Years

In the championship-contending years, Vanney took the team to a level not seen before in club history. It all started in 2016. According to Calen Panchoo of Waking the Red, this is when the players started to trust Vanney.

Toronto had the third-best goal-differential of the 2016 MLS season. In that season, Toronto scored 51 goals and gave up 39 goals. What was quite remarkable for Toronto FC was the improvement in defense from last season. In the 2015 MLS season, Toronto gave up 58 goals, which was tied for the most goals given up in the Eastern Conference.

They lost to the Seattle Sounders FC in penalties at BMO Field. It was a heartbreaking way to lose the MLS Cup Final. Despite that though, Toronto was heading into an even greater season in 2017.

The 2017 MLS Season

The 2017 MLS season was probably the best year of Toronto’s existence. Greg Vanney led Toronto FC to their best goal-differential in MLS. They scored 74 goals and gave up only 37 goals. This resulted in an MLS-best goal-differential of +37. In that year, Toronto had the most goals scored in MLS and the second-fewest goals given up. They also ended up winning their first — and so far only — MLS Cup in 2017. They faced their old nemesis Seattle, and this time prevailed in a 2-0 victory at BMO Field.

The 2018 Concacaf Champions League

Greg Vanney and Toronto FC took the decision to put the Concacaf Champions League as their priority. They had already won everything besides the Concacaf Champions League. Now it was time for them to win the big one.

They first faced the Colorado Rapids, who they defeated in aggregate 2-0 in the Round of 16. Then Toronto played well in the quarterfinals and semifinals. In that run, they defeated two Mexican teams in Tigres UANL and Club América. This was a fantastic achievement for MLS as they traditionally have trouble getting past Liga MX teams.

Tigres UANL was the defending Liga MX champion at the time and Club América is one of the most decorated teams in Concacaf, including winning the competition seven times.

Toronto then faced Club Deportivo Guadalajara — otherwise known as “Chivas” — in the 2018 Concacaf Champions League final. However, they suffered a setback and lose the final in penalties.

2019 and Beyond

It took one and a half years for Toronto to rebound. They made the 2019 MLS Cup Finals thanks to a strong end to the regular season. Then in 2020, Toronto was close to winning their second Supporters’ Shield but lost it narrowly to the Philadelphia Union.

Yes, Toronto should have more trophies in their collection. However, it is better than what Toronto had to endure from 2007-14. While Vanney was not the only person responsible, he did play a pivotal role in Toronto’s success. Vanney spoke about Toronto’s Eastern Conference Final win in the 2019 season.

“[The team] went and like true champions found a way tonight to get it done,” Vanney said. “Played with heart, played with grit, played with real character, resilience, made plays. Went down one really fast, had to come up with an incredible save by Q on the PK to keep us in it and then scored two incredible goals.”

The legacy of Greg Vanney and why he stepped down

Vanney stepped down of his own accord. He revealed that the money and terms were agreed upon this July.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) should not be criticized for this decision. It had more to do with Vanney wanting to move on than MLSE wanting to sign Greg Vanney. According to The Canadian Press, he had “family reasons” for not re-signing with Toronto. This is what Vanney said according to Neil Davidson of The Canadian Press.

“I’m a builder. I like to build things and I like projects and I like big things,” he told reporters. “And this club is in a really really good place. There’s not a lot of building to do. It is an incredible club that is positioned, from where we started to where we are, to be great.”

Vanney played a big role in the success of both Richie Laryea and Ayo Akinola. He was responsible for giving both players playing time and a chance to succeed. In fact, Akinola tied for the lead in goals for the club along with Alejandro Pozuelo this year. These two players are the future of Toronto’s success.

He also played a big role in developing Chris Mavinga. Mavinga was named one of the preliminary finalists for the Most Valuable Player this year.

Other players who thanked Vanney included Altidore and Jonathan Osorio. What he has meant to the club in Toronto should be celebrated. Granted, he was given a position to succeed as 2014 was the first year Toronto acted as a big-market team that spent big money on players. However, it does not take away from what Vanney accomplished with Canada’s first MLS team. This included making Toronto present championship contenders. According to Grant Wahl, Vanney’s next coach job could be with the LA Galaxy.



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