TORONTO – The evolution continues.
With the addition of Nicolas Benezet on loan from EA Guingamp on Tuesday, Greg Vanney's stable is set.
“We're likely done with incoming people,” said Vanney on Tuesday. “At this point we need to settle in with the guys we have, clarify everybody's roles and move forward together.”
“We did a lot of work in this transfer window,” summed up Vanney. “Great job by Ali [Curtis] to close these, to get these guys here. We're looking forward to getting Gallardo going, get Nicolas in, Omar is integrated.”
“[Since] getting the guys back from Concacaf [Gold Cup] our team is much more mature, we're much deeper,” observed Vanney. “I've got a lot of tough decisions to make and tough conversations to have. That's the way it should be: it should be difficult to get your way into the 18 and the 11.”
2019 has been a process.
There was always a tweak on the cards, but the early departures of Victor Vazquez and Sebastian Giovinco tipped that into a more full evolution.
“I've been talking for a while that we need some wide players who are dynamic, can play off of the sideline and the space behind. Whether we had Seba or Victor, we needed those guys because it forces teams to defend the maximum width, which then opens up the middle of the field,” explained Vanney. “It was a small process we were looking to go through with one or two additions, but with guys leaving, more additions, more changes, put us into more of a transition.”
Gallardo and Benezet are yet to feature, but Shaffelburg has provided an obvious spark and Gonzalez' presence at the back through three matches has been impressive.
Whether paired with Chris Mavinga, Laurent Ciman, or Drew Moor, as he was in Saturday's win over FC Cincinnati, the centre-back has been a solidifying force.
“He’s very good, communicates a lot, organizes well and he’s a unit,” said Moor post-match. “He wins everything in the air. Physically he’s very good, communicates so well, is good on the ball. I’m very, very happy he’s here.”
Gonzalez' aerial presence was clear in the opening goal on the weekend, directing a corner kick towards the goalmouth where Nick DeLeon flicked it past the keeper.
“Omar gives us unique size and the power with which he heads the ball is special. So now when we have him, Jozy [Altidore], different guys that the opposition has to mark, it makes it difficult,” assessed Vanney. “The key is getting the service into the areas and to the guys we're trying to find. Once we get all those pieces connected, we can be a very dangerous set-piece team as well.”
Some extra time on the training ground proved useful.
Add in that Altidore is firing on all cylinders, scoring in all four matches since returning from the Gold Cup, and the plan is coming into being.
“He's done an excellent job of helping to connect the team,” said Vanney. “The powerful running, after he lays balls off, to get back in front of the goal is when he's at his best. Busting it to get in front goal. He's going to get goals there.”
“He always has the quality to score the types of goal he scored tonight,” continued Vanney, referring to Altidore's delicate rip to the far top-corner against Cincinnati. “But you don't live on those goals as a striker. You live on the ones in and around the box.”
In the flurry of more recent signings, it would be easy to forget that Alejandro Pozuelo, the first big addition to the squad this year, is still acclimating to his new surroundings.
Pozuelo's class was evident in his return from injury against Cincinnati.
“That's why you have DPs. When they play, they should make a difference,” said Vanney. “It's great to have him back out there, great to have he and Jozy out there. The more time that they can spend together, the more connected that they're going to get.”
It is worth noting as TFC enters the final 11 matches of the 2019 MLS regular season that Altidore and Pozuelo have only been on the pitch together for ten times thus far. Both are fit and ready to go down this home stretch.
Players in place, not just short-term, but long-term as well, Vanney, diverse options in hand, is looking to “close up this chapter” of transition.
“We've got a nice mix of versatility, experience, youth and exuberance,” said Vanney. “We've got good pieces, now we've got to build week to week, and put them together.”