The tweet pops up across timelines and confusion instantly starts to set in. Brows furrow, audible “what?”s are said and plenty of quote tweets and replies follow. Fans spend the next hour trying to decipher what they have seen, still not really sure what to make of it until they see it in person.
That’s what it has been like at times looking at a Greg Vanney lineup over the past season and a half. There have been players out of position, seemingly shocking omissions and some surprising formations.
But while it is ultimately Vanney that signs the lineup sheet, it hasn’t always been fully his decision. In 2018, it was largely injuries that dictated the bizarre state of Toronto FC’s starting elevens. This year, it has been a lack of personnel, particularly wingers that Vanney has long requested from his superiors.
He now has those players and more, as GM Ali Curtis went out and made a record three TAM signings during the summer transfer window.
It might take a bit for these players to integrate, but Vanney now has the team he wants. With that in mind, the results need to follow quickly.
There is a big opportunity for TFC over the next few months. Starting today with the New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC enter a critical stretch of seven straight matches against Eastern Conference opposition. Many of those games, including today’s, comes against opponents with whom they are in direct playoff competition.
Currently sitting in eighth place, but somehow only seven points out of the top spot in the East, the reds can ascend the standings very quickly with a few positive results here. In the midst of all of this as well are the Canadian Championship semi-finals against the Ottawa Fury.
It will be a massive test for Vanney and his staff. They will have to balance their roster through the stretch, while also keeping everyone happy including players who now must take on reduced roles.
Injuries and lack of options aside, Vanney still does deserve a healthy dose of criticism for what has transpired with this club since Michael Bradley skied his penalty in Guadalajara. It’s still the job of the coach to get the best he can out of the player pool he has and that hasn’t always happened.
If those issues persist with a team that appears tailored to his system, and one with no shortage of depth at most positions, then it’s time for the club to seriously think about how Vanney fits into its future.
To this point, Vanney has certainly deserved the benefit of a doubt he was given even through a tumultuous 2018. He still got the team to the final of the competition that the club valued most: the Concacaf Champions League.
This year, he got a new boss and lost two of his best players. After making it clear the style of soccer he wanted to play at the end of 2018, he wasn’t given the players in order to do that.
But with the investment made in this team over the past couple of months, all of those excuses have run out. This team has too much talent to not be a contender in the MLS Eastern Conference.
The good news is that they have mostly looked the part over the past few weeks. The club has only lost twice in the last seven games, and there have been signs of progress at both ends of the field.
If that progress continues, then this team is in great shape heading into the most critical time of the year. If not, serious questions have to be asked about those steering the ship.