Greg Vanney - crouching
USA Today Sports

Toronto FC players hail Greg Vanney for his tactical flexibility, in-game adjustments

TORONTO – Greg Vanney has all the tools in the shed.

It would take far too long to list all the formations he has tinkered with, let alone all the little shifts and tweaks, his teams have gone through in his five-plus seasons with Toronto FC. Naturally, his players have grown accustomed to all the changes. 

“We train that, the different formations. We have the last few years,” said Jonathan Osorio, who originally signed with Toronto as a Homegrown Player in 2013. “We’re used to it. Coach likes to impact the game with tactical changes. We trust in him, do the best job we can.”

Even goalkeeper Quentin Westberg has picked up on the nuances this season, his first with Toronto since arriving from French club Auxerre.

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“Some teams try to win games on raw talent, some on being physical and tough,” Westberg said. “We’re able to take a little bit of everything because we have talent, we have physicality. But our biggest strength is our tactical awareness.”

The ability to adapt is one thing, but it is never the plan.

“I don’t really want to change the tactics in the game,” Vanney said. “I don’t set out saying we’re going to do this, then shift into that and that. The first thing I try to do is stay with what we’ve started. And then if the opposition has done something different and we’re not adapting well, I will be patient and then try to give us something different.”

That doesn’t mean Vanney is rigidly stuck in his system, nor does he tune out player feedback. More often than not, the players take ownership of any tweaks.

“From my position, I can help them if the solutions aren’t super clear,” Vanney stressed. “Other than that, I allow them to solve it on the field as much as possible. Once the game starts, the players adapt to what is happening as well.”

It is the fostering of the “tactical awareness in all of us” that has left the greatest impression on Westberg, a 33-year-old with extensive European experience.

“To adapt to the situation, not be fixed in positions, being able to switch systems, switch outs, switch points of attack,” detailed the goalkeeper. “It’s been a pleasure all around.”

Famously, TFC switched from their formidable 3-5-2 in the 2017 final to overwhelm the opponent. So what will Vanney have up his sleeve for Sunday’s MLS Cup Final (3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TUDN in US; TVAS, TSN in Canada) against that same Seattle Sounders FC?

“You sit and wait for what he is going to come up with,” relished Westberg. “We know he is going to get us prepared perfectly, give us the tools. But the tools don’t do the job.”

Nick DeLeon dusted off all the plaudits, calling Vanney a student of the game and tactician. The former D.C. United stalwart continued with his praise.

“He’s all about trying to get guys in the right spots to impact the game in the best way they can,” DeLeon summed up. “I got nothing but good things to say about Greg. It’s been a pleasure to play for him. He’s got a big part to do with TFC being here three [times] in four years. It’s remarkable.”

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