Greg Vanney: With goals scarce, Toronto needs to be better defensively

Now winless in their last eight games, Toronto FC will have the chance to record three points for the first time in nearly two months when hosting Atlanta United Wednesday evening (8 pm ET | TSN — Full TV & streaming info).

With international absences and injuries still taking a toll, head coach Greg Vanney stressed a pragmatic approach when speaking to the media earlier this week. Michael BradleyJozy Altidore and Jonathan Osorio are still with their respective teams at the Gold Cup, and defenders Auro and Chris Mavinga aren’t yet at full health.

“Our team right now, the way it is, is not going to score three, four goals a game,” Vanney said. “We need to win these games 1-0, 2-1 at the most; 2-0 would be nice. We just have to be smart with how we do that. We have to do it in an efficient way.”

Vanney repeatedly turned to the phrase “efficient,” especially in light of last weekend’s 3-0 loss at FC Dallas. Shorthanded and starting the first of three double-game weeks, Vanney lamented how his side tired in the Texas heat and humidity. 

“When it’s warm, it’s humid, it’s challenging, you have two options,” Vanney said. “Either you have to be really secure defensively and be able to control things so you’re not running all over the place, or you have to have great possession.”

Toronto struggled with those areas against Dallas, though remains above the Eastern Conference playoff line with 19 points through 16 games. 

Staying there is another conversation, though, with Atlanta into the U.S. Open Cup’s quarterfinal round and winners of two straight league matches. Vanney knows it’s a stern challenge, even if Josef Martinez is away with Venezuela at the Copa America and Ezequiel Barcorecently joinedHector Villalba on the injury report.

They’d know well, losing 2-0 at Atlanta back on May 8 to ignite this winless stretch.

“Last time, when we played them at their place, we got pulled apart because we were chasing things,” Vanney said. “Midfielders were stepping out at the wrong times and we got opened up. Guys like Pity Martinez...these kinds of guys can really hurt you in space.”

Whatever Atlanta throws Toronto’s way, Vanney said it’s paramount that they execute the basics well.

“At the moment we’re not a team with this prolific scoring attacking, so we have to make sure that we are protecting our goal in a good, effective way and we’re keeping the opposition off the scoreboard and then we’re looking to create our chances,” Vanney said