Toronto FC looking for role player at MLS draft

Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney. (Michelle Siu/CP)

Unlike in the past, Toronto FC isn’t expected to be a major player at the 2016 MLS SuperDraft.

The Reds will select ninth overall—their only pick through the first two rounds—during Thursday’s event in Baltimore. Compare that to 2015 when they had three picks in the top 11, 2013 when they had the third-overall pick, or 2012 when they selected fourth.

A year ago, the Reds went into the draft looking to add depth to their backline. They used two of their first-round selections on defenders Clement Simonin and Skylar Thomas. Simonin missed most of the season due to injury, while Thomas was assigned to TFC II, the club’s USL outfit.

Coach Greg Vanney revealed that TFC has a different draft strategy this year.

“With the group that we’re looking at, we’re going to look for the best player who best fits how we want to play the game. It’s not necessarily specific to a certain position. We did a bit of that last year when we felt we needed more depth at centre back. This year, our approach will be a little bit more of who is the best player available, who can be a role player, and how does he fit in to our team and our style, and how we work him in,” Vanney told Sportsnet in a one-on-one chat.

Aside from the goalkeeping position, the Reds don’t have any major roster holes to fill thanks to the recent additions of Canadian midfielder Will Johnson, veteran centre back Drew Moor and right fullback Steven Beitashour. With that in mind, it’s going to be tough for whomever TFC picks in Thursday’s draft to crack the starting lineup or be a key contributor in the short term.

“A lot of guys [available in the draft] are going to need a touch of time to become difference-makers in MLS or become guys you can rely on,” Vanney said. “We’ve got now, with the moves we’ve made in the off-season, a pretty set idea of what our starting 11 will be. So anybody we pick will likely have to come in and evolve and learn.”

With that in mind, can Toronto FC get a quality player at No. 9? Vanney believes it can.

“I don’t know that you can necessarily get a starter, but you can get someone who can develop and grow over the course of a season. I do think there are solid players in this draft who are going to have good, long careers. They just have to adapt to the professional game, and that will take time,” Vanney offered.


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Vanney has been in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the past few days at the MLS combine, looking at college players one last time before Thursday’s draft.

“The games down here have been more tactically organized than previous years. Before games have been hectic—guys have been focused on highlighting themselves. I feel like this group is a bit more tactically aware than previous groups… It’s done a good job of highlighting some guys, and you see a bit better of where they might fit into a team from a role perspective,” Vanney explained.

Most GMs and coaches arrive at the combine each year with an idea of who they want to pick, but Vanney believes the combine can be useful in the decision-making process.

“I think there’s value to a certain level. For a number of players, it’s good to meet them and to sit down with them, to talk to them and to get a little more perspective into their personality and character. In that way, it’s useful,” Vanney said.

Vanney speaks from personal experience. Before being selected in the second round (17th overall) in the 1996 draft, Vanney played in a combine game that pitted the top college prospects at the time vs. the U.S. under-20 team. Back then the combine wasn’t a multi-day event, but instead took place during the NCAA final four tournament being held in Virginia in November.

“It was freezing cold, it was raining and the field turned to an ice rink. It was just one game, one chance. The combine has definitely evolved into a better, more in-depth process,” said Vanney, who played for UCLA before being drafted by the LA Galaxy.