Greg Vanney's halftime alterations sees TFC past the Whitecaps

Posted Mar 8, 2015 by Tyrrell Meertins
Here are three thoughts on Toronto FC's Major League Soccer season opener victory against the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place.
Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko and head coach Greg Vanney announce the club has signed ...
Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko and head coach Greg Vanney announce the club has signed Italian midfielder Sebastian Giovinco.
1. Vanney rectifies initial error
For the second consecutive year, Toronto FC has won their season opener on the road against difficult Western Conference opposition. This time the victims were Carl Robinson’s Vancouver Whitecaps, as the Reds came from behind to claim maximum points for the first time since June 2013.
But for large portions of the first half, TFC never looked like winning the match. Shades of last year’s issues — failing to defend well as a unit and retain possession — were evident with every passing minute. Debutant Benoît Cheyrou was dispossessed on three separate occasions in the first half that nearly resulted in goals, as the Reds couldn’t cope with the Whitecaps’ pressing or pace in attack.
However, the main issue that hindered TFC’s first half was their suicidal high-line. It was strange to see the away side push their defensive line so high considering Steven Caldwell and Damien Perquis’ lack of pace, and Vancouver’s swift attack constantly exploited the away side’s back four.
With TFC applying minimal pressure in midfield, the Whitecaps found it relatively easy to launch attacks in transition. Subsequent to a horrendous Octavio Rosales miss, Pedro Morales’ 12th min long diagonal from deep saw Kekuta Manneh run across Warren Creavalle to receive the ball free on goal, and despite the right-back’s desperate recovery run, Joe Bendik was forced to push the 20-year-old’s effort aside. The opener stemmed from a similar move, as Rivero ran behind Caldwell to latch onto Pa Modou Kah’s long ball before calmly slotting his shot past Bendik.
Majority of Vancouver’s best moves were created in a similar pattern: Morales would receive the ball in deep positions in transition, and instantly punt the ball into the left channel for Manneh to either torment Creavalle, or exploit the space behind the advanced right-back and run at Caldwell. It was a successful approach throughout the opening half, but the home side wasted several efforts in the final third.
However, TFC manager, Greg Vanney, deserves plaudits for altering his sides approach in the second half. Caldwell and Perquis sat deeper in their third to thwart the threat of Manneh and Rivero on the counter, thus forcing the dynamic Vancouver attackers to evade a few challenges en route to goal, opposed to making simple runs into space.
The move was effective as both TFC centre-backs are comfortable defending closer to goal, and apart from a wayward Russell Teibert effort near the hour-mark, Joe Bendik was merely a spectator. Likewise, TFC grew in prominence with the home side failing to maintain the energy levels displayed in the first half, as Cheyrou and Michael Bradley began to dictate the tempo of the match with efforts on both ends, while Sebastien Giovinco continuously popped up into pockets of space and playing proactive passes.
Robbie Findley and Jozy Altidore notched goals in the second half to complete the ideal season opener performance away from BMO Field. Surely TFC were fortunate not to be down a few goals in first half, but Vanney’s half-time changes were practical, and fittingly negated the home-side’s main threat.
“We were fortunate they didn’t take some chances,” Vanney admitted. “We were very reactive. We just weren’t recognizing what they were doing.
“In the second half we did a better job of taking away the space behind us, that forced them to play in front of us. That allowed us to get our midfield more into the defending effort. They became a lot more predictable.”
The combination of maturity, belief, and Vanney’s tactical tinkering triumphed on the day, and TFC supporters will hope the club can build on what should be classified as an impressive away performance.
2. Marquee signings enjoy positive start
For all of last year’s failings both on and off the pitch, the one error that TFC couldn’t afford to replicate this season involved signing designated players that wouldn’t fit the club’s ethos. Julio Cesar’s departure following the World Cup, along with Defoe’s decision to abandon the club after one season, nearly destroyed an optimistic fan base.
This explains the sense of skepticism that came with the club’s off-season transfer business, as high wage packets attracted Altidore and Giovinco to the club. But if there were any doubts regarding the impact of the new signings, Saturday’s win in Vancouver may have put them to rest.
Altidore bettered his goal tally recorded at Sunderland — scoring once in 42 appearances with the Premier League club over two years – in 90 minutes, but more importantly he retained possession well, and consistently held up defenders to link play with his midfielders. The American’s first goal highlighted his ability to finish chances in the box, and he used his brute strength to win a penalty — which he coolly converted – for his second.
“I thought Jozy played like a monster. He showed you what he could do, so anyone who questions whether he can score goals, I think he proved something today,” Vanney told reporters.
Giovinco, on the other hand, was the architect behind Altidore’s first half equalizer. The Italian cleverly turned former Red Matias Laba, and slid an incisive pass into the American to notch his first MLS assist. It took the 28-year-old some time to adjust to the frenetic pace and physicality often associated with MLS, but the Italian began to display glimpses of brilliance as the match progressed. He often linked play well with his teammates in close proximity, and drifted into pockets of space behind Teibert in the second half before running towards goal and earning free kicks in dangerous areas.
Likewise, the remaining three newcomers included in the Reds’ XI also enjoyed positive outings at BC Place.
Although Cheyrou endured a difficult opening half filled with nervy errors, the decreased match tempo in the second half witnessed the French midfielder confidently retain possession, and move into space to play the initial pass in the buildup to Findley’s winner. Bradley and Cheyrou protected the back four admirably in the final half hour, and they intelligently sprayed passes across the field, displaying the ball retention that was non-existent last season.
Perquis looked assured and reliable alongside Caldwell once the duo dropped their defensive line deeper, and Findley’s second half off-the-ball run across Jordan Harvey proved to be the winner. Unlike last season, TFC’s off-season signings appear to have clear roles that will help Vanney build the Reds into a cohesive unit.
3. Whitecaps short of attacking ideas
If Robinson’s Whitecaps intend on clinching a home field advantage in the playoffs, they will need to avoid performances of this stature.
Sure, it’s the first match of the season, and pre-season rust could have played a factor in a disappointing home display, but the Whitecaps can’t afford to play this poorly at BC Place. The botched Rivero chance haunted Robinson’s side, as they could, and should have, been up two goals at half time. But once TFC occupied the vast amount of space behind their back-line, the Whitecaps were left clueless in the final third.
Key man Morales was unable to locate space between the lines with Jonathan Osorio, Cheyrou and Bradley sitting in central areas, and his impact was limited in wide areas. Chief creator Morales — often the man relied upon for unlocking tight defences — was effective playing penetrative long balls from deeper positions, but Vanney’s midfield worked diligently to deny the Ecuadorian space to influence the match.
From an offensive perspective, the Whitecaps were equally poor in central areas. While Teibert and Laba successfully pestered Cheyrou in the opening half, their productivity in offensive areas was scarce. Teibert failed to offer authority, penetration or creativity in deep areas, and it was worrying to see Laba, a holding midfielder, offer an increased offensive threat.
Perhaps sole reliance on Manneh’s pace down the left should have secured three points for the Whitecaps, but failure to identify alternative attacking approaches showcases flaws in Robinson’s preparations. Indeed, two defensive errors sealed Vancouver’s fate in the second half, but Robinson must discover attacking flexibility going forward.
It’s far from panic time in Vancouver, but they need to improve on both ends if they intend on surpassing last year’s success.