Greg Vanney - Toronto FC - Thumbs up

We're in the stretch run.


Every final whistle precedes a glance at the standings to see who's rising above or falling below the playoff line, who's tracking toward that Knockout Round bye and whether anyone has a shot at stealing the Supporters' Shield away from Toronto FC.


The answer to the latter is "No." And while "Il Generale", Jozy and The Atomic Ant provide the highlights – often assisted by Victor Vazquez – on a roster masterfully, methodically constructed by Tim Bezbatchenko, it's safe to dish out an early piece of hardware:


Greg Vanney is your MLS Coach of the Year. Sure, storylines dominate this one. The FC Dallas US Open Cup-Shield drought-ending double elevated Oscar Pareja last season; Veljko Paunovic held pole position through July's Gold Cup break, for guiding the Chicago Fire through their rebuild and figuring out how to incorporate new pieces all over the field while developing and nurturing talent along the way.


But the wheels have fallen off in Chicago, and others keep turning in Toronto. TFC, a perpetually disappointing on-field product from expansion debut through their 2015 postseason breakthrough (and early exit), has coalesced into a model franchise whose ascendance – we thought – culminated in last year's run to MLS Cup.


And then Stefan Frei happened. At home. And it could have been "Same ol' TFC" … until it wasn't. When 2017 started, Toronto opened the year with two draws, a win, then another two draws. They lost to Columbus on April 15, and won their next six matches – went undefeated in eight; then won three of four after the loss; they're currently undefeated in nine. The record stands 16-3-8; at 57 points, they're nine clear of No. 2.


"Ruthless" pursuit of achievement? Those tones are set by the coach, and even a stinker for this team usually ends up a draw. See, the Reds are good. Historically good. With the man who ushered in a league-wide renaissance of the 3-5-2 at the helm (even as he successfully tweaks), navigating MLS's highest-pressure gig and guiding his charges through injuries to stars and subs alike, unsubtly finding time for and ways to praise every tier of "the deepest roster in league history."


Earlier this year, TFC assistant coach Robin Fraser told MLSsoccer.com that, for Vanney, "The status quo is never good enough. He wants to be better."


Vanney is. And so are Toronto FC. The end-of-season ledger awaits its final inscription, but you can put one name in pencil right now.