Opinions have largely been split on Greg Vanney and Tim Bezbatchenko ever since they were named head coach and GM of Toronto FC. The pair, as has been mentioned on many an occasion, had little experience before filling their current roles. At times it has shown, but both have clearly learned a lot on the job as well.
Vanney has certainly seen the bigger share of criticism. Toronto's head coach was a controversial hire after the team had allowed several other inexperienced coaches to unsuccessfully cut their teeth with the club. #VanneyOut became a popular twitter hashtag, especially after Toronto crashed out of their first ever playoff appearance in unceremonious fashion.
The thinking was that Vanney was coaching the best team Toronto FC has ever put together, and still couldn't do anything significant with them. The man who largely put that team together, Tim Bezbatchenko, also came under fire, however: the team had clear flaws, and flaws that Bez wasn't able to address in season.
Whether you like them or not, however, watch closely over the next month and a half, as this could be a defining stretch for both of them and their Toronto FC careers. With Toronto FC going through an injury crisis, one that has seen four cornerstone pieces of the squad have to sit out, this next stretch is going to give a lot of insight into the men currently leading TFC.
For Greg Vanney, this stretch will test his creativity and leadership while working with limited squad options. The once fairly deep side has thinned out considerably, and now Vanney will likely have to pick a new lineup approach if he wants the team to succeed. He also has to oversee what will be a difficult gelling process with so many new players.
Initial results have been good, a new-look Toronto FC experimental lineup Vanney rolled out on Saturday had one of the best performances for the club in recent history. They were incredibly unlucky not to get more than a 1-1 draw against Seattle.
The key to this stretch for Vanney will be what it has been all season, only more difficult now: figuring out a way to create more offence without sacrificing the defensive side of the game. The club can't afford to keep missing chances like they did on Saturday during a time of year when every point is massive.
Bezbatchenko's job, meanwhile, will be to provide Vanney with the support that he couldn't last season. For a GM who has done a very good job of constructing this Toronto team, last summer's transfer window was a glaring black spot on his resume.
While Josh Williams turned out to be a savvy addition at centre back, both of his foreign additions caused problems. Ahmed Kantari never looked comfortable on the Toronto backline, and did little to provide any help for the club's most glaring 2015 issue. Herculez Gomez, meanwhile, rarely saw the field, and then failed to make the team out of training camp this year. His salary handicapped Toronto early in the season.
Bezbatchenko's biggest test will be identifying where Toronto FC can use some help, and then adding a player who can address that right away. With Gomez' contract coming off the books, he will have at least a little bit of cap space to work with over the next few weeks.
At the end of the day, this management group will be judged on whether or not they can make the playoffs again, and this time, extend that stay past one game. Surviving this stretch is going to be crucial to that goal.