Tim Lewieke continues to put his stamp on Toronto FC by slowly bringing in staff in key positions that fit what he wants from the club. Having installed his choice at General Manager a few months ago with the appointment of Tim Bezbatchenko he has now turned his eyes towards the future. The club confirmed on Wednesday that they had hired Greg Vanney to replace Thomas Rongen as the Director of the Toronto FC KIA Academy as well as take on the role of Assistant General Manager.
With Vanney now on board Toronto FC is essentially being run by a trio of men who are on the younger side for their professions. Vanney is currently 39, Head Coach Ryan Nelsen is 36, and General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko is 32. That is a lot of youth and inexperience being put into key positions in the club and stands in stark contrast to when the club and academy were being run by Kevin Payne and Thomas Rongen who had been around MLS pretty much since day one.
Vanney may be just 39-years-old but make no mistake about the experience that he brings with him into this role. He will be familiar to Lewieke as the pair overlapped during their times in LA with the Galaxy. Vanney spent the final year of his professional career playing with the Galaxy in 2008 and he returned to the club to take on a role in their academy this past year.
Vanney's resume already has a fair bit of experience in the five years since he stopped playing professionally. He has a USSF "A" Coaching License, is part of MLS's Elite Formation Coaching Liscence program, and has worked with the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. He has also served as Real Salt Lake's Director of Soccer Opperations and Director of Real Salt Lake-Arizona Youth Academy at Grande Sports World, he was an Assistant Coach and Academy Technical Director with Chivas USA, and most recently coached the LA Galaxy's U-14 team and oversaw their partner club LA Galaxy South Beach.
That is a fair bit to accomplish by the age of 39 but his most impressive feat was what he managed to achieve with Real Salt Lake. In 2010 he helped the club open the first residential program for an MLS academy in the United States. His work put RSL in a position to make the most of the talent that is in that region and to draw in talent from a wider range to make up for the fact that they are not located in a soccer hotbed like some of their competition.
For once the quotes from TFC in their official release on the move do not seem over the top as Vanney is certainly a figure who is well respected in the North American soccer community for not only his playing career but also his approach to and passion for youth development.
"Greg is a visionary when it comes to player development," said Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko in a statement. "He shares our club's passion for innovation and is an educator of both players and coaches. We are pleased to welcome him to Toronto FC. I'd like to thank Thomas for the tremendous job he has done over the past two years here. I have a great deal of respect for him and wish him well in his future endeavours."
"I am honoured to have the opportunity to join the Toronto FC family and lead a great staff in the development and preparation of players for the TFC First Team. The vision and commitment to success and innovation of the ownership, MLSE President & CEO Tim Leiweke, and General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko, make this a very exciting challenge," said Assistant General Manager & Toronto FC KIA Academy Director Greg Vanney. "I look forward to getting to work with the staff and players in the coming weeks and the Ontario soccer community at large."
With Gilberto's signing likely to be announced at a press conference at 1 PM on Thursday the news of this hiring will quickly be pushed off the front page but if Vanney can finally put the Academy in a position to make the most of the abundance of soccer talent in the GTA it could prove to be the more important move in the long run.
Lewieke and the other decision makes at TFC will not sell any tickets or shirts with this move. It does nothing to back up all of their big talk but what it does is help make the future of the club just a little bit brighter. Thomas Rongen may well have been doing good things in the academy but Vanney may just be the one to come in a work towards rebuilding relationships with local clubs and finding ways to work towards the greater good. His history suggests that is something he is capable of and that is why I am so excited about this hiring.
Toronto FC's academy could very well be a sleeping giant at this point. They have the money, the facilities, and their is talent in the region. If Vanney can come in and make the most of all that he could actually be one of the biggest hirings the club has ever made. There is reason to be optimistic but, like is the case for Bezbatchenko with the first team, there is still a lot of work to be done to turn optimism into actual results.