TFC coach Vanney: ‘Not just defence’s fault’

Justin Morrow, right, in action for TFC. (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO—It wasn’t all doom and gloom from Greg Vanney on Tuesday.

Toronto FC’s coach was in a pretty upbeat mood today despite the Reds suffering an embarrassing 3-0 loss away to the New York Red Bulls on the weekend, the latest in another long line of dreadful results and team performances. TFC host Orlando City on Saturday for the second time this month.

Here are some news and notes from TFC’s training session on Tuesday….

Not just the defence’s fault
Toronto FC’s defence continues to be a major concern.

The Reds have conceded 41 goals thus far (only Philadelphia has a worse defensive record with 43 goals against), and are on pace to “beat” last year’s mark of 54 goals against. Shockingly, TFC have given up 22 goals in their previous eight games, and the last of its four clean sheets came in a 0-0 draw with D.C. United back on June 27.

Even more shocking is that Saturday’s loss to New York was the eighth time that Toronto has conceded three or more goals in a single league game. Or, to put it another way, they’ve given up three or more goals in 34 percent of their matches.

Little wonder, then, that the back line has come in for some major scrutiny. But Vanney doesn’t believe that criticism is entirely fair, and felt his defenders moved well together in unison and played with great intensity on the weekend.

“I thought out back line was pretty good (against New York). That’s something I hear a lot about—the back line and us conceding goals. We gave up goals but in the grand scheme of things I thought our back line was pretty good,” Vanney offered.

The problem in New York, Vanney explained, was that the midfield left the back four too exposed.

“We were unable to have enough impact on the game defensively in midfield and they were able to swing the ball side to side. What happened was that we were often winning balls going backward or so deep in our half that it became a big challenge to build attacks and get forward,” Vanney said.

Vanney bemoaned his midfielders’ inability to offer more of a defensive presence and take better care of the ball when it possession and move it around quicker. He also felt they turned it over far too easily, which put even more pressure on the defence.

“There’s nothing worse than being a defender and the (opposing) guy on the ball can hit any pass he wants because there’s no pressure on him. We weren’t able to get pressure on the ball in key areas of the field,” Vanney diagnosed.

Star forward Sebastian Giovinco agrees with his coach that it’s not all on the back four.

“The entire team should defend in a better way and try to support each other. It’s not just the defence’s responsibility,” Giovinco said through an interpreter.

Would Vanney consider switching up his tactics, and abandon his 4-4-2 midfield diamond formation against Orlando this weekend, in order to better protect the back four?

“It’s a catch-22 because some of our best moments have been (in the diamond formation), and some of our worst moments have been in it. We will assess and figure it out,” Vanney admitted.

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Williams likely to start again
One of the bright spots for TFC against New York was the play of Josh Williams, who played in place of the injured Damien Perquis.

Acquired off waivers by TFC on July 31, Williams debuted for the Reds against New York and more than held his own while partnering Ahmed Kantari in the centre of defence. A right fullback by trade, Williams looked composed on the ball and put in a very solid performance for someone whose last competitive game was on May 10 for New York City FC.

“He was strong in his challenges both in the air and on the ground. He was aggressive when he needed to step in and challenge things. ... I thought he defended the box very well,” Vanney stated.

Vanney also enthused about Williams’ passing ability and his intelligence on the ball when in possession.

“He impressed me. It’s been a few years since he played at centre back, and he stepped into role and did very well,” Vanney said.

With Perquis likely to miss Saturday’s game against Orlando through injury (more on that later) Williams should start at centre back again beside Kantari.

“It’s been a few years since I played that position. When I came here I thought I’d be playing at right fullback. But due to the injury to Damien they switched me over. To me, it’s my best position. It feels natural (to me) out there,” Williams offered.

That’s good news for TFC as they could use more depth at the centre back position, as Perquis has looked suspect as the season has progressed and Kantari hasn’t exactly impressed since joining the club earlier this month.

“By (the time Perquis returns) I hope my centre backs make it difficult on me to choose (who starts). I’m looking for that. I hope that comes,” Vanney said.

Bradley, Altidore to miss Seattle game?
Vanney confirmed TFC has begun talks with the U.S. Soccer Federation about working out a deal where they can keep Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore for the Reds’ game away to the Seattle Sounders on Sept. 5.

The U.S. national team is scheduled to play a pair of friendlies against Peru (on Sept. 4 in Washington, D.C.) and Brazil (on Sept. 8 in Foxborough). Under normal circumstances Bradley and Altidore would be released by TFC to play for the U.S.

But doing so this time would mean they’d both starters would miss the game in Seattle, a crucial road contest for Toronto as the campaign heads into the final stretch. So TFC has reached out to the USSF to see if they can work out a compromise where they can keep both players for the Sept. 5 game, and then release them so they can still play against Brazil three days later.

“We’re trying to do the best we can to make as many guys as possible available for selection so we build into this final push of the season,” Vanney said.

“This is the key part of the season. We’re in a good position, we want to keep our team together, we want to keep our group moving forward and that’s our goal: build momentum one game at a time as we move into this final stretch of matches.”

Injury updates
Perquis remains doubtful for Saturday’s game due to a lingering quad injury. The Frenchman has missed the last two matches with the same issue. Vanney is optimistic Perquis will be able to play at home against the Montreal Impact on Aug. 29.

Some good news is that forward Luke Moore (ankle) and defender Clement Simonin (knee) are back in full training and are available for selection on Saturday. Simonin hasn’t played since March 29 (his only league appearance of the season thus far) while Moore’s last outing was on June 20.

Sportsnet spoke one-on-one with Mark Bloom on Tuesday. The injured right back was ruled out for the rest of the campaign earlier this summer after undergoing quad surgery.

Although walking with a noticeable limp, Bloom said he’s slowly recovering and will start his rehabilitation program in the coming weeks. If all goes well he expects to be able to return to full training by December.