Whether it’s in MLS or in Europe, when the fixture list really starts piling up it can be almost impossible for managers to run any kind of meaningful training sessions at all. The work they are most fundamentally paid to do - coaching the team and improving the players on a day-to-day basis - is lost in a cycle of preparation, travel, game, travel, rest and preparation again.
It is something of a luxury, then, for Greg Vanney to be afforded a week during the international break in which he can forget, at least for a few days, about Toronto FC’s next opponent. The Reds will return to their usual game-week routine closer to the home opener against Sporting Kansas City but for now, Vanney has the opportunity to get in some work on the foundations from which he is attempting to build an MLS Cup winner and not specific to any particular opposition.
“[It’s] just some principles, I think, that are important in what we’re doing,” Vanney said when asked about his priorities for the week. “It’s not a lot of systematic types of things just because we’re missing some numbers, but it’s a lot of things I think individuals need and so we work through some individual stuff, get them some repetition but also just smaller group principles that we need to see better or execute better or read better as a group.
“There’s plenty of things we can work on, that’s for sure.”
The 42-year-old identified two areas of focus in particular after watching his team earn five points from their three-game road trip to start the season.
“For us, one of the hardest things in the game to do is to break down teams that sit in numbers and don’t really come and engage you high up the field,” Vanney continued. “So we’ve got to have, at times, a better idea of how we want to move defenders and sort of manipulate time and space and manipulate defences when they’re sitting on us and sort of protecting their lines and the gaps in between their lines.
“That’s one thing that we needed to address because the last few games, we saw a little bit of that from Vancouver, who was a little bit deeper in their setup, Philly was a little bit deeper in their setup and we just have to have good, clean ideas of who we’re trying to manipulate and where we’re trying to get to.
“Secondly is also just some repetition in terms of execution. I think we can still be a little bit cleaner with the ball, we can still be a little bit cleaner with our final actions and the timing of some of our final movements and things like that. So we set up some games and some different activities to work on those things.”
Despite the absence of a few leaders in the group in Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Armando Cooper, who are on international duty, and Benoit Cheyrou, who is away for what Vanney would only label “personal reasons”, the coach has had no issues keeping the intensity of the sessions up.
“I think guys are engaged, they want to work - if they’re going to show up to training they’re not going to want to come in and just mosey around,” he said. “So guys show up to work and we create good, thoughtful, competitive games for them to play but also to work on some things that we think we need to continue to progress at.
“We’ve got a good group; they work hard no matter what the scenario, so it’s not that hard for me to motivate them. What’s more of a challenge for me is to continue to come up with or use exercises that are appropriate, that meet what we’re trying to come up with in terms of objectives to get better and to improve as a group.”