Greg Vanney - side view

TORONTO – In a little more than two seasons, Greg Vanney and his staff have turned Toronto FC from laughing stock to Supporters' Shield contenders.


Through their first eight seasons, TFC had eight different managers, hundreds of players and very little success. But since Vanney took the reins, sunnier times have arrived on the shores of Lake Ontario.


“There was a lot unique about the challenge,” explained assistant coach Robin Fraser after training on Wednesday. “You're fighting a lot of not so positive history. It takes time to change the mindset of the team, the supporters, and the city. Greg has done a good job of putting together a team and game plan. There's buy in [from everyone]. We're all pretty excited.”


With TFC on the verge of great things, is Vanney getting the credit he deserves?


Fraser reframed that question: “Is Greg a big reason why the club is where it is? Definitely.”


“He's come in and established a mindset, from the academy all the way to the front offices,” continued Fraser. “We're trying to have a club-wide philosophy. That comprehensive approach has made a difference.”


“When you look at the progress of the academy, of the first team, we're on our way. We're not where we want to be, but we've certainly moved the needle. It's a fun ride to be on,” concluded Fraser.


“Greg has done an incredible job,” said Michael Bradley after making his return to the side following a two-month layoff in a 4-1 win over New England in early August. The win was their fourth straight, despite being without the services of Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Will Johnson, and Clint Irwin.


“In terms of putting his imprint on things, finding the right types of players, leading with his personality, setting the tone with how hard he works, creating an environment where guys feel a part of it, feel it's all of ours, not just him standing in front of us, yelling and screaming,” continued Bradley. “There's a sense that we're all in this together... that's how you create something when there's a feeling on the inside that's different.”


Jonathan Osorio, holder of the TFC record for most appearances in MLS (108) and one of the club's longest-serving members, having signed back in 2013, echoes that point.


“We're all in this for the same thing,” said Osorio on Wednesday. “In the past, we were kind of disconnected. In this group, we all have one objective; we're in unison. That helps when you're trying to go for a championship.”


“[Vanney does] a lot of things [to foster that unity],” explained Osorio. “We have team meetings, where we go over what we want to accomplish. [That] keeps everybody's mind fresh. We're analytical; it helps a lot. That's what it takes to win.”


“He's got a very calm demeanor,” said Drew Moor of his old friend, Vanney, days after a devastating loss to Montreal. “He doesn't get too high, doesn't get too low. He's managing some big personalities. Everybody is happy, excited, and working towards the same goal. He lets the players express how they feel, whether it's through words or actions. He picks the right team and he's a manager, a coach: he's got the tactics side down. He's done a great job to continue pushing this team.”

Greg Vanney fostering progress, unity in Toronto FC franchise - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/Vanney-Hamilton.jpg

Not that such results come easily.


“He never rests. He's always looking for solutions,” said Fraser. “A lot of guys are content to do what they do and see how the chips fall. Greg [is] always looking to improve. It's a very proactive style where we're constantly trying to be as good as we can.”


“[It's] a different level of thinking compared to the run-of-the-mill coach. It's very progressive; the way of the top coaches, [staying] ahead of what the next person is doing,” added Fraser.


Vanney could not put a number figure on the time invested, but did suggest, “You could ask my wife, it's a lot of hours.” She was unavailable for comment.

“It's ongoing. I spend a lot of time focusing on our group: how we want our team to play,” began Vanney.


“But then each week it's knowing teams, how [they] want to play, want to attack; information gathering over an entire year of watching games and studying film,” he continued. “The players don't nearly watch as much as we do – that's normal, it's our job, our responsibility. [So] it's trying to transfer the information that we pick up from hours and hours of watching, into [a few] training sessions.”


“We spend hours. Not just me, the entire staff. The challenge is condensing that into the right amount of information, so that the players have a feel for the situation and understand the responsibilities they have within our vision.”


And Vanney leaves no stone unturned in search of the proper means of delivering that information.


“We do a lot of video, power points, things that they can see, read, hear, and then practically just do on the field. You touch it, you feel it, you read it, you hear it. All the different ways that you learn. We try to combine all of those into our process,” revealed Vanney.


That voraciousness has been a trait of his since his playing days. Vanney made 270 appearances in MLS over 10 seasons playing with the LA Galaxy, FC Dallas, Colorado Rapids and D.C. United. He also made 37 appearances for the US national team.


“I've known Greg a long time – I played with him in Dallas,” said Moor. “He hasn't changed at all, he's still the same guy: hungry to learn, watches a lot of video. He taught me a lot when I was a rookie and he's continuing to.”


Such diligence has paid off


Vanney has already accumulated the most wins in club history, set new records for wins and points in a season, led TFC to a first-ever playoff berth, and hoisted their first Canadian Championship in four years, which will see the club return to the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time since the 2012-13 tournament.


Is all that enough to warrant Coach of the Year consideration in a season that has seen Pablo Mastroeni turnaround the fortunes of Colorado and Oscar Pareja lead Dallas to the top of the league?


“If you look at the body of the turnaround in two years,” said Fraser. “How can he not be. ”