Toronto FC's head coach and technical director, Greg Vanney, who just celebrated his two-year anniversary at the club's helm, is a delight to work with.
One can have a variety of views on what he has done with Toronto FC, but by and large, he has transformed the club from a punch-line to a serious contender.
Regardless one's opinion, it cannot be argued that Vanney is anything but a good sport when it comes to dealing with the media.
Sometimes, stupid questions are asked.... guilty. Sometimes, massive tangents are taken... again, guilty, when he just wants to focus on the upcoming game or a tricky opponent.
But without fail, Vanney always entertains the question, giving as thoughtful an answer as possible.
One such occasion came about earlier this month – September 9 to be exact – when Vanney was asked to offer some insight on why Jozy Altidore is such a polarizing figure for club and country, a query that elicited chuckles from the assembled press pack.
His answer was simple:
“He's a striker. Strikers, more than anyone, can draw that kind of emotion because unless you're scoring goals every single time you play and you're very consistent, then everybody is going to have an opinion. Jozy [has] been [the US team's] main striker, and if [he's], either injured, or had a run where he hasn't got a couple of goals... it's easy for people to flip on forwards quickly.”
After all, wins and losses are determined by goals and their scorers.
“He's had an unfortunate injury stretch,” continued Vanney, “and they have tended to happen right around key competitions – the beginning of the World Cup, the start of the Gold Cup, right before a Copa America. These are emotional events for fans. Those things weigh on people, people don't step outside of their emotions and recognize that [players] are not just effected by what happens between the lines. Injuries, you can't do anything about that, it's just unfortunate, it happens. Sometimes there's other things that go on that effect them.”
“But when people see Jozy, and he's in the form that he is now – and has been many times before – they get really excited about what he brings to the table,” affirmed Vanney.
“People are irrational when it comes to Jozy, and I think they're just flat out wrong. They don't know everything, pretend to, and take opinions based on a very small amount of information. It's unfair, but he's done a good job of dealing with it. Jozy, I'm very certain, will prove [them] wrong.”
Not content to leave it at that, that same intrepid reporter, took another approach, asking if there was some burning desire to christen the next superstar that perhaps afflicted assessment of players like Altidore?
That history, of the 'next big thing' in US soccer, is long: Freddy Adu, Altidore himself, Juan Agudelo, and now, Christian Pulisic, the 18-year old impressing at Borussia Dortmund, to name but a few of those anointed.
“In the US we're quick to try to label people 'superstars', when in reality have some very good players, probably, in the grand scheme of things, none of which are superstars, but very good, solid players. That's the way it's going to be for a while,” said Vanney. “When I say 'superstars', I'm thinking of the Messi's of the world, the Ronaldo's; the players that we talk about, the elite of the elite.”
“That day will come. As fans we can't try to thrust people into those positions, it's unfair to players. [The US] has a good solid group of players, of which Jozy is one, Michael [Bradley] is for sure one. Guys who are very capable of playing on the world-class level. We need to be content with that, but also realize that they're humans, they're not going to be perfect every time, they've got to be solid and do their job; all the pieces of that team have to be firing for good things to happen. That's just the reality of it,” he continued.
“The superstar will come one day,” insists Vanney. “The 'next' guy is [Christian] Pulisic, he's going to be the next superstar because he's 17 and playing... but he's got a ways to go. He's a fantastic young player, but we've got to be careful to not make him something that he isn't yet. And allow him that time to progress, develop, and grow as a player.”
“Let's be patient, content with the type of players that we have, and know that generation after generation there are going to be great players that come out of Canada, out of the US. The sport is still very young, from an elite level, from a developmental level. In my opinion, we're still in the infancy stage of what it takes to develop consistent world-class types of players. That's just going to take time,” said Vanney, who knows a thing or two about player development, having worked with the US Soccer Development Academy, been Academy Director at Real Salt Lake, worked with Chivas USA's youth programs as Assistant Coach, and was initially brought to Toronto to head the academy.
“We can't get overzealous labelling guys and expecting something,” concluded Vanney. “They're all good players, we should expect them to be [that], but let's be real about where we're at and what we're asking for from our guys.”