Greg Vanney – Master tactician?

Hmmm, I' think I've got it. Step 1, do something bad. Step 2. implement the obvious fix. Step 3. Sit back and wait for the praise to flow in for fixing it.

Hmmm, I think I’ve got it. Step 1, Do something bad. Step 2. Implement the obvious fix. Step 3. Sit back and wait for the praise to flow in for fixing it.

Before the Vancouver game, there were 4 things I was mainly going to be looking at as harbingers of good or bad things to come, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Greg Vanney’s tactics and the Caldwell/Perquis partnership. It was a mixed bag for sure, but I’d say the good outweighed the bad. As with anything, it’s early, one game is way too short of a time to come to any kind of definitive judgement.

My thoughts on Altidore ballooned into their own post, which, faithful reader, you’ve no doubt already read, so now we’ll move on to the others.

Michael Bradley, specifically does it look like he’s going to try and do too much, be the hero, be ‘the general’? I’ve got to say I didn’t really notice him all that much which as far as my question goes is a good thing I guess. Like the whole team really, he looked better in the second half after tactical adjustments led to a slower more deliberate game. He was tidy enough with the passing, definitely contributing towards that first goal, and he and Benoit Cheyrou seemed to do a good job of alternating getting forward and staying back, though often he was once again dropping back to pick up the ball between the centre backs, though that’s presumably more about the tactical plan that any freelancing by him. Having said that, what is part of the tactical plan? If the full backs are bombing forward, it’s be nice if the midfielders can help provide some cover to the centre backs when breakaways happen, and in that sense, they defence was woefully underserved in the first half. Anyway, Bradley wasn’t trying to be everywhere, let’s hope that lasts.

Moving on to the centre back partnership, again it looked much better in the second half than the first. Steven Caldwell isn’t a bad player by any means, but playing that high of a line, with the fullbacks way up the pitch against a team like Vancouver and Kekuta Manneh, was just setting him up to look bad.  And he did. Perquis didn’t look as bad, mainly as the danger was generally coming down Caldwell’s side, but he did do a terrible marking job on Octavio Rivero on that one cross that he missed. In the second half when they got more support, both understandably looked more comfortable, and Perquis in particular looked like a definite upgrade in possession and bringing the ball out. If Vanney continues with what we saw in the 1st half (which wouldn’t be a terrible idea, there were some good things to be seen, mainly going forward, and not all teams would be as set up to take advantage of it as Vancouver were) then Caldwell and Perquis might not be the best way to go, it might be worth bringing a younger pair of legs in. Obviously it’d be unrealistic to expect 34 games out of either of them, squad rotation and some rest here and there would probably be a smart way to keep them fresh. Games against opposition who like to counter and have particularly fast forwards might be a good time to do that.

That brings us to the tactics, and the one narrative you’ll have been reading everywhere is what a great job Vanney and co did to change around the tactics at half time. Obviously TFC did look much better in that 2nd half, slowing down and controlling the game, giving Vancouver less space behind the defence to play all those long balls for Manneh. Well done, but the question no-one really seems to be asking is, why did TFC come out and play like they did for the first half?

I find it impossible to believe that they were surprised by how Vancouver played. Morales long ball over the defence to Manneh or one of their other speedy forwards is what Vancouver do, anyone who watched them even semi regularly last year would have picked that up. Having the full backs go forward and just giving them that space would be suicide. I and many others said that playing that way would be playing right into their hands, surely they knew, and yet they went ahead and did it anyway. Fortunately the other predictable bit of it, Manneh couldn’t score in a brothel, held true. TFC were very lucky not to concede 2 or 3 in that half, from something that was very very foreseeable. They obviously had a plan B ready to go, why wait so long to implement it? But no, the only comment seems to be what a great job they did to recognise the problem and change things around at half time. Baffling.

Anyway, Vancouver didn’t run up the score as much as they could have, and the big money players showed their quality and somehow it was tied at half time. It’s actually more than unfair to suggest TFC’s goal was all about the money, as much as the formation and tactics were responsible for the defensive mess, TFC did some nice things going forward during that first half and it wasn’t just about the DP players. Looking at the goal, and there were some clear tactical decisions that played a part in it. Altidore drifted left and won control of the ball before the ball was passed back via a pushed up high Morrow, to Bradley sitting deeper in midfield. He eventually switched play over to the wing and to Warren Creavalle. Creavalle’s attcking play again had a minor but crucial role, he got the ball to Osorio and made a run further up field to show for a potential return pass. That didn’t come, but he distracted the Whitecap closest to him leaving Osorio to go one on one with Russell Teibert rather than having to battle two players. Then Osorio got the ball to Giovinco and from there it was about the cheque book, good work from Giovinco and a lovely finish from Altidore. The build up was very very similar to the 2nd goal TFC scored against the Costa Ricans. Tactics and patient build up, going through an attacking full back, got the ball to the fancy players in a dangerous part of the pitch where they can do their fancy player thing and cause some damage. Yes the hype goes to the stars, but the first part of it shouldn’t be ignored.

So you can clearly see the benefits to what Vanney’s trying to do with his plan A, though in this game it caused more problems for TFC than it did for Vancouver. Obviously this was the first game, players will get used to it more and gain a better understanding of each other and exactly when to push it and when to be more careful. It’s nice to try and pro actively dominate and control the game as Vanney talks about, but that’s clearly not going to be possible in every game, hopefully there’ll be better recognition of and adaptation to the opposition’s abilities and style in the future. Fair enough, be bold and give it a try and see if it works despite everything you know about how Vancouver could exploit it, but when it’s not working, don’t wait until half time to change things around.

The second half was absolutely much better as Vancouver didn’t do anything and TFC were fully in control, and despite the full backs being pulled back a bit, Morrow still managed to get forward and set up the second goal for Robbie Findley. My favourite part of that goal was Benoit Cheyrou patiently waiting for Morrow to catch up, constantly looking inside, making the defenders at the very least respect the chance that he might pass into the box, enabling Morrow to remain in space to put the cross in. Cheyrou is such a smart player, so far at least he looks like another victory for the chequebook, a good signing.

Overall, like I said it was a mixed bag, we got to see the good and bad of Vanney’s plan A and how certain players can look within it. It wasn’t entirely convincing, at times it was downright frightening, but it was good enough on the day, especially after being adjusted to a more cautious level for the 2nd half, and on the basis of this game the star players have the talent to justify their DP tag and lift the team up. An encouraging start.

Author: Duncan Fletcher

Blogging journeyman formerly of Cruel Geography and Waking the Red, also briefly with Sportsnet and every now and then with the Guardian. As a supporter of Darlington, TFC, England and Canada, football's been unfair and poking fun at Duncan for decades now, so it's only fair he does the same right back at it. Follow him on twitter @duncandfletcher

Share This Post On


  1. Good write-up Duncan, I completely agree. I really don’t understand how Vanney decided to go with the fullbacks so far up field. Caldwell was practically set-up to fail in this game. I’ve begun to wonder about what level of scouting TFC has, if any. Do they actually have scouts that will watch opposition games and prepare game tapes for the team to study before a match? Based on an interview with Cheyrou last week, he was asked about prep for this game and he kind of shrugged it off, emphasizing that it’s more important for TFC to get their own system right. This is true of course, but worrying in that it sounds like Vanney might be over-confident in his players’ abilities to beat any system the other team employs, so why bother trying to plan for those systems.

    The other scouting question (a bit off-topic) is whether they have scouts that actually look at potential transfer targets, or if they just read reports to look for things like, ‘Juventus playmaker Giovinco out of contract in 2015’, so they target those guys that fit the holes they want to plug. This year I won’t complain though because I am quite happy with what we saw from all of the newcomers. Like you said, Cheyrou is fantastic and seems like a real steal.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I think Osario really shone on that first goal to out-muscle Teibert and get the ball to Giovinco. A major contribution to that goal, and I hope to see a lot of that from Osario this year. He may be the extra bit of polish on TFC’s midfield diamond. Weird diamond pun, but not much weirder than the “French Polisher” moniker for Perquis 🙂

    Cheers. Looking forward to the Columbus match!

    Post a Reply
    • no need to apologise for long comments. agree Osorio did very well for the goal, don’t feel like I remember too much of what he did, but that was one very good moment, good composure to cut back and find the pass rather than keep going ahead himself.

      It does seem like they were determined to play their way rather than tailor themselves to the opposition. they’ve put it our there that they don’t want to be reactive to the opposition, they want to be the ones dictating the game. That’s a very nice ideal, but like nice ideals in any way of life, it’s easy to poke holes in it. we’re not good enough to be able to do that and not worry about how the opposition plays. the fact that it took them so long to relaise it wasn’t working and change things around is a bit alarming really.

      Post a Reply
    • How do you commit your fullback so far up-pitch you ask? Well you read the Aron Winter book on Attractive Football. So that mistake has been made before.

      Post a Reply
  2. I forgot to mention – how do you feel about Warren Creavalle vs. Mark Bloom? At first I thought this would be a disaster, but in the second half after he reigned it in a bit, Creavalle kind of won me over. I don’t think he has the tackling ability of Mark Bloom, and in one on one situations I think he could get beat more often than Bloom. But he did show a level of effort that was very impressive, and he won a couple of balls that surprised me. He seems to have a raw talent that I think can be developed with more matches (sort of like the short-lived TFC era of Tony Tchani). I’m ok with seeing him play some more games ahead of Bloom now, because the offensive contribution is there as well. But certainly, Bradley will need to be aware to cover that side when Creavalle gets caught up field. Caldwell won’t be able to do it.

    Post a Reply
    • It’s not ideal, but I’m definitely coming round to it, mainly cos of what the right back’s asked to do. Creavalle just seems to keep being involved in goals so you can’t complain too much I guess. if the full back’s more or less a midfielder, might as well play the midfielder there. defensively creavalle wsn’t great, though like everyone he looked better there in the 2nd half. and yes, if we’re going to play this way with the full back way up, midfielders have got to be ready to do their part to cover it up rather than just leave the cb’s to deal with it.
      kinks to be worked out is mainly what it is.

      Post a Reply
  3. Great read Duncan. Did you find it strange that Bloom and Lovitz didn’t travel with the team considering they don’t have much depth on the wings? Trade coming?

    Post a Reply
    • definitely strange, wasn’t a lot of great attacking options, or much width on that bench at all. Obviously there’s only so many players you can have on there, but weird that they (and Dike) weren’t even taken along. Bit too early to be reading too much into it, but something to watch in the future for sure.

      Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *