A season that yielded a highly-coveted first playoff berth ended in embarrassing fashion for Toronto FC, but there is no time to dwell on that. Pressure is already mounting ahead of the 2016 campaign.
Toronto FC saw its season come to a disappointing end last week with a humbling 3-0 loss to the rival Montreal Impact in the first round of the MLS playoffs, but goals and objectives are already being laid out for next year. TFC knows improvements need to be made across the board in order to reach its goal of competing for an MLS Cup, especially on the defensive side.
“No. 1 priority without a doubt is improving the team defensively. Have to. Can’t let up 58 goals and expect to compete for a championship,” said new Toronto FC president Bill Manning at the club’s end-of-season availability. “I talked to (head coach Greg Vanney) about it yesterday, in fact, and he opened his notebook and his No. 1 priority was exactly what I just said. If you look at the history of MLS, you have to let up essentially 1.2 goals or less (per game) to be a team that can compete for a championship.
“I told Greg next year we cannot let up more than 45 goals.”
It is not just the defense that needs to be better. TFC believe its attack has to improve as well after a 2015 campaign in which playmaker Sebastian Giovinco did much of the heavy-lifting. Giovinco finished the regular season with 22 goals and 16 assists, both league-highs for the year, but Toronto FC wants to see others around him produce a bit more next year.
Jozy Altidore is one of the players that Manning, Vanney, and TFC want to see have a bigger impact and more offensive production. Altidore scored 13 goals this season, but his play at times was not up to snuff. In fact, there is a belief from within the organization that Altidore and Giovinco did not connect enough this year because the U.S. Men’s National Team striker was not truly comfortable with his role.
“I think what Greg is saying is he’s really going to work with Jozy with being a box striker and a classic No. 9, because he’s going to get the ball,” said Manning. “If you look at the goal he scored in the (season finale), that was a classic goal with Seba beating guys down the left side, Jozy scoring a head ball in the net. He’s a big, strong kid. He’s 25,26-years-old.
“I think what Greg wants to do is make him comfortable with where he’s playing and to maximize his assets that he has. I think Seba, you just let him do what he does, and the team works around that.”
Fellow Designated Player Michael Bradley is also expected to return to Toronto FC next season, but one person who was not necessarily guaranteed to come back was Vanney. Manning admitted on Tuesday that he considered bringing on board Jason Kreis – with whom he worked with previously at Real Salt Lake – before ultimately deciding to give Vanney another shot at leading TFC.
“I thought about it, I thought about it a lot, and I thought about the future of this franchise, I thought about the history of this franchise,” said Manning of a possible coaching change. “We’ve never had a coach, the same coach that’s started a season two seasons in a row. Greg has coached 44, 45 games, something like that. The team has improved.
“Essentially, over the last four years you went from 23 points to 29 points to 41 points to 49 points. We have to be a 50-plus-point team, without a doubt. That’s the expectation of owners, that’s my expectation. I think Greg deserves the opportunity to continue what they started here.”
Manning also laid out other marks that he wants Toronto FC to hit at the start of 2016. With TFC set to be on the road during the opening weeks of the campaign due to further renovations to BMO Field, Manning wants to see the club pick up eight points through the first eight games. He then wants to see Toronto FC make up some ground on the pack once it begins to play home games again in early to mid-May, finishing with 26 or 27 points at the halfway point.
That all might make for quite a bit of pressure on Vanney and his players before the balls even get rolling, but Manning just views it as part of the job.
“There’s nothing wrong with setting goals,” said Manning. “Here’s what I do know about TFC in my discussions with ownership. This organization wants to win, and they’ve made the investment in these players that we should be a team that competes for a championship year-in and year-out.
“You’re not going to win it every year, but as long as you’re in that conversation and in that mix. That’s what we have to build here.”