There’s an old, lazy cliché in sports which dictates that any team in crisis can fire their coach to turn things around mid-season. Any kind of struggles that can’t be easily, empirically explained? Must be coaching.
Which brings me to the current state of Toronto FC. Through the course of their 4-3 loss on the road to Minnesota United, I followed the utter chaos that is the #TFCLive discussion thread on Twitter. Fans are, quite understandably, upset at how TFC have been playing recently. There’s no denying the team is slipping well below the standard they set last season.
That said, there is one growing narrative that doesn’t sit well here. A significant number of people — enough that it’s worth addressing — are calling for head coach Greg Vanney to be fired.
Comments all over social media have said such things as “Vanney has lost the room,” or “This team doesn’t care anymore” (which Vanney’s been blamed for).
Criticizing the team’s attitude and effort is fine, and probably reasonable. There’s nothing wrong with being annoyed that the players may not be outwardly showing the same frustration as you. What is a problem, though, is reducing all these issues to one person.
Greg Vanney is, unequivocally, the greatest coach in Toronto FC’s short history. He’s been at the helm for more than twice as many games as anyone else, and he has the most coaching wins at TFC by a margin of 43 — he has 61, and Aron Winter in second place has 18. No other gaffer ever to take up this job has ever even made the playoffs.
Seriously; have people forgotten that Toronto FC won the MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield last season, and that they were a missed penalty away from winning the CONCACAF Champions League just over two months ago? Or, have people instead forgotten that pretty much every single player has missed lengthy stretches with injury?
Reactionary coaching changes were a hallmark of TFC 1.0. That Vanney was the ninth coach in eight years when he took over in 2014 should tell you enough about the leash TFC’s previous managers had.
Of course, no other TFC coach had the talent Vanney has at his disposal, but knowing how to get the best out of his players is a football manager’s greatest challenge. Throughout last season, Vanney was repeatedly hailed as an excellent tactician, as the Reds clinically broke down teams in a variety of different ways.
Remember how perfect TFC’s tactics were in the 2017 MLS Cup Final? Remember how, in the 2016 playoff run, Vanney would make a substitution and completely shake up the formation when TFC were chasing a game?
Let’s get this straight: it is absolutely okay to criticize a coach’s decisions, or disagree with something he does, even if it happens all the time. Mike Babcock is the highest-paid coach in the NHL, and Leafs fans are always screaming about his lineup decisions. But how many people are calling for his head?
There is a vast difference between wishing something was done differently and wanting someone to lose their job. You can definitely take issue with the lineup — for example, Michael Bradley was probably employed at centre-back at least one game too many, once the experiment had proven to be a failure. Opinions, disagreements, frustrations — all totally fair. But why, all of a sudden, has Vanney gone from the Gregfather and MLS Coach of the Year to someone who draws this much hostility online? It doesn’t need to be so binary.
No coach can magically inject his players with confidence when they’re in a slide like this one.
Vanney has always seemed to have a strong relationship with his players; all you need to do is watch an episode of All for One on YouTube. I find it very hard to believe that things can change so dramatically within a couple months that he’s “lost the room.”
Firing the coach is not an easy out. It’s not something you do “for the sake of making a move,” especially when your current coach has brought you so much success already. There is no chance Toronto FC would be better off without Vanney at the helm right now.
Yes, TFC have a lot to consider. I’m sure they’ll be taking a hard look at everything within the organization, particularly if the whole season plays out like this. I’ve seen reasonable arguments that the club should evaluate their medical and training staff. There are certainly player personnel changes on the horizon, too.
But I find it very hard to believe that Greg Vanney would be feeling any tug on his leash, no matter how bad things are at the moment. And that’s the way things should be. If anyone at Toronto FC has earned themselves the benefit of the doubt, it is him.