TORONTO – With what is expected to be a hectic schedule for the remainder of the 2020 regular season, Greg Vanney wanted to add a piece should the right player become available.
He got some such reinforcement on Monday when Toronto FC announced Scottish defender Tony Gallacher would be joining on loan from Liverpool FC for the remainder of the season.
“We knew that this part of the season was going to be games on top of games and travel,” explained Vanney on Wednesday. “One of the positions that we don't have a lot of depth is in that outside-back position, with players who really understand the position and have some experience in that position.”
The departure of Ashtone Morgan in the offseason and Justin Morrow dealing with the occasional knock has highlighted the left side in particular as an area of need.
“We have some young guys that we're trying to train for their future, but with JMo and Auro and Richie [Laryea] we've been able to rotate guys through, but it's going to be tough with as many games as quickly as they're going to be coming up and with the travel associated,” levelled Vanney. “We felt if we had an opportunity to find the right player, at the right salary, with some good experience, and is young, and has the possibility of having a future with us, that we were going to go for it. Tony was one of those options.”
“He's grown up as a left-back, he understands the position, he's very comfortable in terms of his role,” he continued. “Obviously having come from Liverpool, he's got a good idea of what it will take for him to be successful with us.”
“He’s a good passer, a good defender; he understands his reads and decision making on the defensive side and he gets himself into the attack. He doesn't fly up and down like Richie per se, but he can join into the attacks and he's a quality crosser,” Vanney added. “There's a lot of good starting points for him to help us in the short term and we'll use this time to assess him to see if he's somebody that can help us long term.”
What drew Gallacher was the prospect of action and a good word from a Canadian teammate.
“I just turned 21, so me and my agent, my family, everyone knows I need games, need real first team games,” said Gallacher in his introduction to the media. “I've been under-23s at Liverpool for two-and-a-half years now, it has been good to learn from some great coaches how to play the game, but the minute this came around it was time for me to kick on in my career.”
Even if it meant crossing an ocean.
“Travelling [was] not a bother at all, as long as I'm going to play games and make an impact wherever I go,” dismissed the defender. “And Liam Millar was telling me how much I’ll love the city.”
Toronto-born Millar is one of a number of young Canadians making waves in Europe.
“He's been texting me since I've been here, asking how I’m getting on. He knows a few of the boys – he was saying [he told them] to look out for me,” joked Gallacher. “He's been in contact a lot, saying about how nice the city is and how great the club is as well. It was good to have him give an insight of what to expect.”
These are strange times to come to North America for the first time.
Gallacher has been in town for nearly three weeks now, but has not been able to really sample Toronto.
“I've done my quarantine, so as you would expect I haven’t seen much apart from the house I was staying in, but since I’ve gotten out, I’ve done my medical, so a few of the drivers have been taking me around and I’ve been able to see the place,” he said. “I’ve obviously not been able to experience it like I would if everything was normal.”
The club has done everything possible to make it a smooth process off the field.
“I’ve had numerous people helping me with what I need, sorting all my visas and all that type of thing – went right over my head, didn’t have a clue what's going on,” joked Gallacher, self-deprecatingly. “They managed to make it as simple as they could.”
“I’ve been in the club the last three, four days and the boys have been ideal, the coaching staff, manager, have all been with open arms,” he continued. “If I have any questions, any issues, they'll be right on top of it. Since I’ve been in, it’s been clear sailing, easy going.”
On the field, both player and manager believe the adaptation process will be just as smooth, and not just because the kit colour is the same.
“[Vanney] tries to play very similar to the way we do at Liverpool,” observed Gallacher. “He plays football the right way, the positive way, with his pressing, we set up to press from the front, working hard, make sure you try to win the ball back in the opposition's half.”
“And then when you do have the ball, try to exploit areas, create two-v-ones, overloads on the sides, playing through the striker, and then also playing out from the back,” he continued. “I’ve been speaking to the boys, saying how similar his systems relate to back home, so for me I don't need to change the way I play, I don't need to adapt too much. He definitely likes to play positive, attacking football.”
Reigning Premier League champions in England and UEFA Champions League winners the previous season, Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp are currently one of the best teams in the world, heights to which Toronto can only aspire.
But in terms of approach, both player and coach see something familiar.
“Our teams are built differently, no question. They have different types of players on their wings, midfield is made up slightly different than ours, but I think the concepts and the principles of how we play are similar,” said Vanney. “They like to be pretty aggressive, especially in the counter press and recovering balls and trying to force and pin teams back in their half of the field. They're good with the ball and they can create chances.”
“We've had a lot of emphasis on our defensive transition reactions, our discipline behind our attacks so that we can try to create second phase, third phase attacks and that's very similar to what they do,” he continued. “Some of the things that we do in training, we've talked about it with Tony, are similar to things that they do there.”
“There are some similarities. It's not exact, not even just the quality, but the makeup of our team is obviously a little bit different,” Vanney added. “But the concepts are similar, which is easier on [Gallacher] as he comes in. He doesn't have to adapt too much. He has a good sense of what's expected of him.”
Since joining Liverpool from Falkirk FC, Gallacher has been studying to become the complete modern day left-back.
“Someone who can defend solidly one-v-ones, defend facing his goal, but on the other hand, getting forward and getting involved in the goals and situations, assist goals, is as key nowadays,” he detailed. “It's not just sitting there, try to play safe and defend what you can defend, it’s putting in extra effort, getting up there, getting around your midfielder, whoever it may be, and involving yourself in the attack.”
“That's helped me a lot coming from Falkirk to Liverpool,” he added. “It’s been a big difference how much they emphasize on getting forward as a full-back.”
From one Reds to another, it was the right fit.
“When I got the opportunity it didn't even cross my mind to answer no,” began Gallacher. “And then the more I looked into the club, I knew how big they were, how well they've done the last few seasons, they like to compete, and I spoke to the manager on the phone as well. He made it very, very simple for me by explaining the way he wanted to play.”
“Other teams might have been interested, but there was nothing set in stone, whereas here the manager was keen to get me in and then because I've travelled hopefully he knows I want to be here, I want to play,” he continued. “The minute it came up I was very excited and then the more I got to know about the club and how well they're doing and how their systems are, it’s ideal for me. There was no question about it at all.”
Toronto returns to the pitch on Saturday when they face D.C. United at Audi Field. They then travel to the New York City area for a clash against NYCFC at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday before playing their first ‘home game’ in East Hartford, Connecticut, welcoming Columbus Crew SC to Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
Gallacher will be available to suit up as soon as his ITC arrives.
“I want to do as much as I can for the club and for myself, get as much out of it as I can, and games, that's why I’ve came: to play first team, men’s football. I want to work hard, I want to show what I can do,” aimed the 21-year-old. “The conversations I’ve had [with Greg] have been to come in, be positive. He knows that I can adapt to the way he wants to play – that’s why he’s got me in."