TFC notebook: Coach Vanney not panicking over slow start

Columbus Crew midfielder Niko Hansen (28) battles against Toronto FC midfielder Armando Cooper (31) during the first half in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, April 15, 2017. (Fred Squillante/Columbus Dispatch via AP)

Toronto FC was back in training Tuesday ahead of its home game against the Chicago Fire on Friday.

Here are some news and notes from Tuesday’s practice at the club’s training facility in Downsview.

NO NEED TO PANIC, VANNEY SAYS

TFC dropped a 2-1 decision away to the Columbus Crew on Saturday, the club’s first loss of the season.

With just one win (and four draws) in six games, the Reds currently sit ninth out of 11 teams in the Eastern Conference. It hasn’t been the best start to the campaign after TFC made it to the MLS Cup final last December, and coach Greg Vanney admits that the team has left valuable points on the table.

Still, Vanney feels there’s no need to panic, as even the best teams in the league stumble out of the gate before eventually recovering.

“It’s six games into the year, and we’re [six] points out of the first-place spot. It’s a long season. We saw that New York [Red Bulls] were 1-7 at the beginning of last season and [ended up in first in the East],” Vanney pointed out.

“It’s not to say [TFC’s slow start is] okay, it’s just to say that sometimes that’s MLS. We have lots to build on, we have a good group. What we saw at the end of last year wasn’t a fluke.

“We’ll have more discussions when it gets to July or August if anything hasn’t changed.”

The first decade of Toronto FC in the words of the players, coaches, executives and fans who built the franchise.

MOOR UNLIKELY FOR CHICAGO GAME

Toronto FC revealed last week that Drew Moor was discovered to have an irregular heartbeat during a medical examination following a training session. As a precaution, Moor didn’t travel to Columbus.

Vanney told reporters on Tuesday that the club is trying to arrange an appointment for Moor to see a cardiologist sometime this week. Until Moor gets that assessment and then any possible follow-up treatment, he’s not allowed to train with the team. Vanney hinted that the veteran defender likely won’t be available for Friday’s game.

“It depends on the timeline and whether we can see the specialist and then following up with whatever needs to be done thereafter. … I’d say it’s probably a challenge to have all of these things done by Friday,” Vanney said.

Moor, 33, played every minute of the team’s five games before the Columbus trip, quarterbacking a three-man defence that kept three clean sheets and conceded just four goals.

Last season, his first in Toronto after joining the club as a free agent, Moor played in 32 of 34 regular season games (all as a starter) and was a major reason why the Reds posted the second-best defensive record in MLS, with just 39 goals against – the year before, without Moor, Toronto gave up a league-high 58 goals.

Nick Hagglund took Moor’s place in the centre of defence against Columbus, marking the first time he’s played that position in a competitive game – he slotted into the middle of TFC’s three-man back line for one game during the pre-season.

“I thought Nick did a great job,” Vanney said. “I think it makes sense for him – he uses his athleticism and his size. He’s comfortable on the ball enough to make those initial passes.”

A TOUGH WEEK FOR VANNEY

Vanney was back running practice today and will carry on likewise ahead of Friday’s game. Vanney missed most of the training sessions last week – assistant coach Robin Fraser took over in his absence – after his mother passed away last Tuesday before rejoining the team in Columbus.

“There’s a lot of emotion. There are certain things and certain situations that remind me of my mother. It’s those moments that catch you by surprise and get you emotional. … It was tough last week just to be away from the team for all the preparation leading up to Columbus,” Vanney admitted.

“It was an awkward feeling joining back into the team having gone through the roller coaster of emotions that I went through.”

He later added: “Everybody here has been great with support. I’m glad to be back with all of these guys, and back on the field, and concentrating on moving forward.”

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April 17th ft. Mark Bloom
Originally aired April 17 2017

MAVINGA OUT A FEW WEEKS

Vanney confirmed that French defender Chris Mavinga is dealing with a quad strain, and that he’s expected to be sideline for a few more weeks.

Mavinga sat out the Columbus game after making his first start for the Reds the previous week at home against Atlanta United FC. One of the club’s major off-season signings, Mavinga has made three appearances thus far totalling 65 minutes. He was subbed out early in the second half against Atlanta following a lacklustre performance.

“Chris is going to be [out] a few weeks or more. It’s a quad strain, so it’s going to take some time,” Vanney said.

Jason Hernandez, who signed with the club as a free agent in at March, is on his way back from injury. The veteran defender has yet to make his debut for Toronto.

“He’s been part of the training sessions, building his fitness up. Hopefully in the next week or so he’ll be available,” Vanney said.

MORGAN BACK IN FULL TRAINING

After sitting out the entire season thus far while recovering from foot surgery, Canadian defender Ashtone Morgan was back in full training on Tuesday.

TFC’s longest serving player, Morgan, who debuted for the club in 2011, was limited last season to just seven league appearances totalling 157 minutes, mostly due to injury problems.

“It’s great to have Ash back. It gives us another option [in defence] and another guy out here every single who competes,” Vanney said.

Vanney previously said that when Morgan did come back that he would play a few games with the farm club, TFC 2, to get game fit before appearing for the senior team.

QUICK LOOK AHEAD TO CHICAGO

Friday is the first of two matches this season between TFC and the Fire. They’ll meet again on Aug. 19 in Chicago.

Toronto swept the season series in 2016, winning all three of its games against Chicago.

With a 3-1-2 record, the Fire sit third in the Eastern Conference, and are coming off of a pair of clean sheet victories. Buoyed by the addition of German star Bastian Schweinsteiger, Chicago is unbeaten in their last three games, and have only lost one game this season.

“Between Juninho, Dax [McCarty] and Schweinsteiger, they have guys who move the ball effectively, and guys who can play the pass, who can dissect you if you lose your shape,” Vanney offered.

“They’re organized as a defensive unit, so they’re not a team that gets spread out all that much – they stay pretty close together and clog things up from a defensive standpoint. They are efficient in getting out in transition.”

After the Chicago contest, TFC host the Houston Dynamo (April 28) and Orlando City (May 3), before travelling to Seattle take on the Sounders on May 6 in a rematch of last season’s MLS Cup final.