New coach for TFC playoff countdown

By Aldwyn McGill 

Toronto FC General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko introduces Greg Vanney as new head coach for the team on Aug. 31 at the Kia Training Grounds & Academy. Photo: Toronto FC
Toronto FC General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko introduces Greg Vanney as new head coach for the team on Aug. 31 at the Kia Training Grounds & Academy.
Photo: Toronto FC

With the big countdown for the playoffs starting with his team’s next game, TFC General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko wasted no time in bringing out the broom together with Greg Vanney as the new head coach of the club. It was after the Reds’ 3-0 loss against New England Revolution.

From where I sit there are two scenarios to take into consideration. The media seems to be convinced that it was based on words exchanged prior to the game and at the post-game press conference where I was present and contributed to the dialog.

However, my take on the matter is that the release of Ryan Nelsen was based on the Reds performance in the season and gradual drop from playoff contention. I had endorsed Nelsen to retain his job heading into this seasonto allow him the opportunity to develop after his first and only year as a coach.

But, based on the limited progression Nelsen has shown systematically in combination with what seemed like a biased approach to his team selection, usage and substitution processes, there was no doubt in my mind that his release on Aug. 31 was a long time coming.

The positive is that the coaching change was done with the Reds still in a good position to make the playoffs and for those who may think that new coach Vanney’s hiring will affect the team then it must be that like Nelsen, they have not watched Toronto FC perform over the last 13 games.

Toronto has won one of its last six games and three of its last 13. So it goes without saying that if that trend had continued for its final 10 games the team would have been out of the playoffs after Nelsen was given every opportunity to succeed in terms of player personnel, comfort and continuity.

Nelsen was surrounded with some of the best minds in the sporting business in G.M Bezbatchenko and Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) President and CEO Tim Leiweke who freed up the money to allow him to practically walk his TFC team into Major League Soccer (MLS) playoffs.

So to the few people who are upset with the firing, maybeyou should also look into the way Dwayne De Rosario was treated by Nelsen. As the most accomplished Canadian player and one of the most accomplished in the MLS, Nelsen selected rookies and players who showed less ability and scope over Dwayne.

He took De Rosario off his 18-man roster against (2-2) Chicago Fire and because he felt the heat after Canada called up De Rosario as part of the roster for the upcoming international friendly against Jamaica on Sept. 9 at BMO Field he became politically motivated.

Nelsen reinserted De Rosario into his squad for the next (New England) game and put him into the game in the last 10 minutes as the third and last sub. That was after the young, aspiring but inexperienced Daniel Lovitz and a talented but somewhat one-dimensional player in Jackson with TFC losing 3-0 after the half.

But to his downfall, De Rosario entered the game to loud applause from the appreciative home crowd and De Rosario turned out to be the team’s sole scoring threat in a game in which the team was trailing from the very first minute of play and lost 3-0.

Coaching is about results and being the Reds’ worst game of the season, I remain optimistic that TFC still has a very good chance of making the playoffs. However, reoccurring excuses from this point onwards can only mean that TFC players are not ready for prime time and the playoff challenge ahead.

Team captain Michael Bradley characterized the situation best as “Those crazy days.” It was his response to the firing of the coach and speculation that the marquee forward Jermain Defoe was deliberating and eventually turned down a lucrative transfer offer from an English Premier League club.

The end of the international summer transfer window was last Monday and with the roster still intact Toronto FC can now focus on making the playoffs. It was refreshing that during the “crazy days’ Michael Bradley as the pillar of TFC midfield voiced his commitment to the club and its playoff objective.

“When I came in January and sat at the press conference and told people I was excited for the challenge of coming to Toronto, those might have been just words to you guys but it was exactly what I meant,” he said. “I didn’t expect it to be easy, and it hasn’t been. But we’re going to continue to make progress.

“It doesn’t mean there are not ups and downs along the way because it wouldn’t be realistic and it wouldn’t be life if there weren’t.”

Bradley’s comments come at a time when Toronto is facing the biggest test of the season and maybe in its history. On Wednesday at press time the TFC plays the Philadelphia Union and it is the first of the final 10 games in Toronto FC’s 2014 season.

It is also significant because it is the first of a home and away series with Philadelphia and is the start of a make-it or break-it period for the Reds. Bradley thinks it is a test for his team to “be ready 10 different times over 90 minutes to make sure that, after 34 games, we’re in the playoffs.”