In discussing the issue of building depth and the first-team vision coming to fruition on Tuesday, Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney looked to the future. “Within that is looking down at our TFC II team, what do we have coming though, how are we helping develop our young Canadian players, and what does that look like,” he pondered.
“So that we can talk about the next two to three years, in terms of roster changes of one, two, three guys. Not having to rebuild, but just sliding in guys at the right time. I definitely think we're closer,” continued Vanney. “TFC II is going to be more competitive than ever. We have a lot of guys on that team who I can see how they will fit into the first team, probably in the not too distant future.
“For me, when I looked at that team last year and the year before, were very young. You knew that guys were going to need a couple years before they were ready for any sort of transition. Now, I look at that team and there are some guys who, over the course of this year and into next year, will be on the first team if they continue to progress. We're getting closer to what that looks like.”
Walking that tightrope of balancing the dual goals of development and results has been on the mind of Jason Bent, who leads TFC II.
Speaking last October, at the close of the 2016 season, Bent said: “It's a challenge for sure. My priority is how many players we push on to the first team. Players from last season  – Jay Chapman, Jordan Hamilton, Mo Babouli - have pushed up through the ranks; Alex Bono has been a massive contributor to the first team. We've seen Raheem Edwards, Brian James, Malik Johnson step onto the first-team pitch. Those are encouraging signs. We're nowhere near where we want to be, but we're making some progress.”
Winning, however, is still a massive part of the plan.
“We've had some progress in the way we played, being able to compete in a number of games – [we] lost 11 games by a one-goal margin,” Bent reflcted. “We were in tight games that could have been decided either way. We're not happy to be losing. But we're somewhat... not pleased, but understanding of the level of competition for our players. That the difference can be made on one or two plays.”
“It's a challenge,” reiterated Bent of finding consistency with a constantly rotating cast of players. “Us as an organization, myself as a coach. We're going to be under more pressure to get results next season. Realistically, any second team around the world, the biggest thing is can you produce players for the first team; that's the biggest benchmark. We're competitive, we want to win, and we need to get a few more [wins] this season, but at the same time if I can push more [players] through to the first team, help them move forward, then in my mind [we’re] doing a good thing.”
Vanney emphasized that on Thursday in his message to the group before they departed for Phoenix.
“The message is play to win,” he said. “Play like you're being assessed, and [do so] in the vision of how this club expects to play. This year is a big one for us.
“I said it to our entire team, not just the guys who went down. The expectation this year is that the culture that's been established at the first team moves down into the USL and the academy and that winning is important. It's an important part of the development. That's the expectation. When those guys go down, or the USL guys step on the field, the expectation is that they fulfill their responsibilities, to their potential, and that they play to win. People will be watching.”
The challenge of creating a philosophical thread through all levels of the club will be even more of a focus this season, according to Bent.
“This year more so because we want everyone on the same page, whether you're a first-team player, a player that is transitioning, an academy player; we have to get everybody thinking the same way, with the same mentality, style of play,” said Bent. “[We want everything] to be streamlined, so if somebody pops in, it becomes seamless.”
TFC II begin that journey on Saturday night in Arizona against Phoenix Rising FC.