Toronto FC held the final media availability of the 2015 season at KIA Training Ground on Tuesday, with president Bill Manning, general manager Tim Bezbatchenko and head coach Greg Vanney addressing a disappointing end to the club’s campaign.
The Reds were knocked out of the MLS Cup playoffs in Montreal last week in rather stunning fashion. For the club’s brass, the 3-0 loss at Stade Saptuo was unacceptable.
“I was embarrassed,” stated Manning bluntly.
"For me the performance simply wasn't good enough," echoed Bezbatchenko.
As the team begins to lay the groundwork for next season the message was clear on Tuesday.
“Our number one priority without a doubt is improving the team defensively,” said Manning. The Reds conceded a league worst 58 goals this season — tied with New York City FC and Chicago.
“I talked with Greg [on Monday] and his number one priority was exactly the same,” Manning continued. “I told Greg next year we cannot let up more than 45 goals. We need to be a team that can win games 1-0 and we need to be a team that can win games 4-1.”
Montreal scored three goals in 21 minutes to put last week’s playoff match out of reach in the first half. Scoring goals was not a problem for the Reds the season, they came second in the league with 58 tallies, but preventing them certainly was.
"It's fair to say we were unbalanced when you talk about conceding 58 goals,” said Bezbatchenko.
Though last week’s loss was a gut punch, Manning reiterated his desire to maintain stability heading into 2016. That includes retaining Vanney and Bezbatchenko in their current roles.
"I think Greg [Vanney] deserves the opportunity to continue what they started here,” said Manning. "I want Tim [Bezbatchenko] to focus on just soccer,” he continued. “I want to give him the tools to be successful."
For Vanney, the 2015 season was a learning experience. From beginning the year with a daunting seven-game road trip to securing the club’s first ever playoff berth, there were many highs and lows. The loss in Montreal served as the nadir, with Vanney indicating the match served as a microcosm of the season as a whole.
After his first full season as a head coach Vanney acknowledged there are aspects of his coaching style that he will have to alter.
"I'm looking at myself and our approach to the [past] season,” he said. “Our training day-to-day and what areas we need to get better in."
Manning recalled a situation he experienced with the newly available Jason Kreis during his first season with Real Salt Lake when it came to giving Vanney a vote of confidence heading into the offseason.
“I joined RSL in April of 2008 and I had a coach that [was there] for two thirds of 2007 and maybe five games in 2008,” said Manning.
“We finished 10-10-10. RSL fans were screaming for [the coach’s] head. They wanted Jason Kreis out. I liked Jason a lot and I thought he had the tools to be a really good coach. The next year we wound up 11-12-7. By all outward looking projections we underperformed based on some of the talent we had but I felt we were building something. We wound up winning the championship [in 2009].”
“Sometimes it’s easy to say ‘fire someone,’ but had I fired Kreis in 2008 or midway through 2009 RSL wouldn’t have had the history they have. I look at this situation [in Toronto] and find myself in a very similar scenario and I say Greg deserves the opportunity to continue.”
With a long road trip to begin the 2016 season due to the renovations at BMO Field on the horizon Vanney and his staff will know what to expect this time around. Manning stated eight points through the first eight games is the club’s goal.
There’s plenty of work to do from now until then. The club must address the backline and depth across the board. That process began after Thursday’s disheartening loss and continues today.