TORONTO – In soccer, as in life, it is in finding the delicate balance that success lies.
Between defence and attack, being willing to take chances while also limiting risk at the other end while also utilizing experienced starters and working in talented youth.
As Toronto FC prepares for the second month of the 2019 MLS regular season, aiming to continue the winning start, they are seeking to harness two seemingly conflicting forces: consistency and flexibility.
“In some ways they can be,” admitted Greg Vanney of the disparate assets. “But the success of 2017 was both our consistency and our flexibility.”
“Consistency gives you the ability to adapt, [but] if you are constantly trying to adapt, you never settle into anything; become a product of nothing definitive. Repetition, repetition, repetition, then if you slightly adjust it, your mind can make that adjustment subtly. It's an adaptation,” continued Vanney. “If we can build consistency, then our ability to be flexible is to win games in different ways: by being a strong defensive team, by having a lot more possession, when teams sit deep on us, when teams press us.”
“That is the flexibility that is important for us,” he added. “That's why we were really successful in 2017 and is something we have to get back to.”
Already some of the fruits of those efforts have been visible.
Contrast the wins on the road against the Philadelphia Union on opening day with the home performance over NYCFC: the first a gritty, hard-nosed, grind-it-out type of win. The second, more free-flowing and emphatic (thanks in part to the introduction of Alejandro Pozuelo).
While the goal-scorers steal the headlines, Vanney knows that without all 11 players on the pitch pulling their weight, results would not be forthcoming.
“There are a lot of guys that deserve credit for the work they're doing to keep the team functioning and on track,” said the TFC Coach. “There are always going to be guys who make the special plays, score goals – we'll have different guys step up at different times.”
“But there are [others] that keep the ship going: Marky [Delgado], Drew [Moor]; Auro has been fantastic. Justin [Morrow] scored a goal this weekend that unfortunately got called back. Those guys are every bit as important.,” continued Vanney. “Alex [Bono] seems to be settling in, growing in confidence – he took some balls out of the air the way we hoped – after a challenging and trying year last year.”
“Everybody is in a good place; everybody has contributed to the early success that we've had,” added Vanney. “The challenge over the course of the season is to keep everybody at the level that is expected and occasionally maybe more than expected. Consistency will be the most important thing.”
It helps that Toronto “have a lot of very good soccer players.”
“Auro could be a decent defensive midfielder if we wanted to spend time playing him there, but he's an outstanding right-back. [Jonathan] Osorio could be a central midfielder, can come off the wide flank, can be an attacking midfielder. You see some variation,” listed Vanney. “Jozy is not just an out-and-out centre-forward who hangs out at the front. He can drift out wide, he can come back, set up plays.”
“There are a lot of fluid things we can do with this group. It doesn't have to always be the same,” concluded Vanney. “There are certain things that are staples. Sometimes we use different people in different ways, but we don't really change what we're trying to do. That's flexibility.”
The relatively slow start to the season with seven matches through the opening two months will allow Toronto to work into a rhythm before being greeted by a hectic May where another seven games await.
Once that foundation is laid with the core of the roster, others can be worked in seamlessly
“My hope is that we can create a nice, stable environment for young players to learn with veteran players around them,” said Vanney. “The team doesn't feel it when one guy is slotted into the mix, if four guys were it would impact the group. Consistency and stability are critical, in terms of performance and results.”
At the base of it all is the key concept.
“Everybody sacrifice a little bit of themselves for the greater good and you'll really see how good this team can be,” urged Vanney. “That's what we're working towards.”