ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s what championship teams do, and Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney was quick to point out the growing belief within his squad that the Reds are firmly on that path, following the hard-earned 2-1 win at Orlando City SC that lifted them into command of the Eastern Conference.
In the middle of a run of three games in eight days – two of them on the road – Vanney was content to ring in the changes at Camping World Stadium, making five changes from the lineup that won at Philadelphia and seeing his selection pay off with both goals and a solid defensive display.
“I think we have been saying it for a while but our depth is what you have to have in this league,” Vanney explained. “At the start of the season, we had some questions, but we have seen a change with a lot of our younger players [in recent weeks].
“We have had injuries through the mid-section of the season. Players have been getting a ton of experience and we are still getting points, and that gives us a lot of confidence that we can bring in some of these young guys now. We have a lot of them in the team, and a lot of them have contributed for us this year.”
Vanney was especially pleased that they were able to adjust tactically at halftime, when the home team appeared to be getting on top after Tosaint Ricketts had given Toronto an early lead. The Canadian striker was preferred to Jozy Altidore on the hard Orlando turf, but Altidore then came on in the 58th minute in place of Ricketts and promptly staged a one-man war against home keeper Joe Bendik.
Bendik seemed to have got the better of the duel until Sebastian Giovinco worked his second assist of the night to put Altidore in the clear four minutes from the end.
“We are in a good spot right now,” Vanney added. “We are just trying to keep everybody active and sharp as we go into the final stretch of the season. I couldn’t be more proud of our group over the last stretch. They have dug in under tough circumstances and this is a hard place to play.
“We are still looking to improve, though, and my message to the team is not to relax now. There are still teams around us and there are still things we need to work on. We haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
Vanney was largely happy with how his back four handled Orlando City striker Cyle Larin, even though the Brampton, Ontario, native bagged a 56th-minute equalizer for the Lions with an opportunistic header.
“He is extremely good in the box and we didn’t want to get into a foot-race with him,” Vanney said. “He had a couple of opportunities early on, so we had to give ourselves more depth in terms of the defensive line and we had to make sure we had contact with him in the box, given his size and jumping ability. We did that for the most part in the second half.
“We also made a tactical shift and that helped to create some attacking opportunities. They were committing numbers forward and I thought we could catch something on the other side of it, and that’s what happened.”