TFC coach Greg Vanney juggles family and team needs while on MLS hiatus

Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney. (David Zalubowski/CP/AP)

TORONTO — With four kids aged eight to 15 at home, Greg Vanney has his hands pretty full these days even without soccer.

And the Toronto FC coach will be spending more time away from his sport given Major League Soccer’s announcement Thursday that it’s extending its season hiatus for the next eight weeks, with a target return date of May 10 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The good news is the Vanney family — he and wife Amy have an eight-year-old boy, twin boys aged 12 and a daughter about to turn 16 — is healthy.

“The house keeps getting smaller and smaller, though, but we’re good,” Vanney said Thursday. “Staying busy playing board games. The boys and I will go on a run every day, just try to get out and about in the parks and stuff.

“We’re trying to, like everybody, keep ourselves busy, but adhering to all the guidelines that are out there. I think that’s important.”

And like others, the 45-year-old Vanney is trying to find the right balance between family and the world outside during these troubled times. And he is planning for the future.

“Eventually that means playing soccer, but that’s for sure not the primary thing in everybody’s mind right now,” he said.

His kids are on what looks to be an extended March break, adapting to the new normal. For his youngest son especially, it’s been hard figuring out why he’s can’t play with friends or go to soccer practice.

“He’s kind of got it now, but at first it was definitely getting them to understand how serious this is and what we have to do as a family and what the expectations are on all the families to try to keep this under control,” Vanney said.

“That’s why I say our house is getting smaller because they are getting more and more active in the house on a daily basis,” he added with a chuckle.

TFC’s players are also doing well health-wise. Vanney says they are no different from anyone else — they’re processing what’s going on in the world. And hoping things get back to normal.

It’s not easy. While players can stay fit during the hiatus, they can’t play. And coaches can’t really coach. But Vanney’s long-term goal is simple.

“When we come out of all this — because we will — we want to be in a better place than when we started it, ” he said.

Vanney has been watching games on video, preparing for how he is going to engage his players in the leadup to the return to play. He has also been contacting individual players as needed, while trying to give the squad time to sort out the ever-changing global landscape.

“At some point I know we’re all going to be — if we haven’t already — going a little stir-crazy. And that’s the time I kind of want to jump in and start working with guys and some of the other things from a coaching perspective. And getting the rest of our staff involved because everybody is trying to figure out right now what’s the most useful way for ourselves to use this time to try to continue to progress forward — our team, ourselves and everybody else really.

“It’s interesting. I’ve had a lot of time that I’m not used to having just with my thoughts and trying to project what we can continue to do to move forward.”

Like many leagues, the North American soccer circuit announced a 30-day suspension of play on March 12 — two weeks into the regular season. The league also put a moratorium on training, which it recently extended to Friday.

It went farther Thursday and extended the league-wide suspension of play, citing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance to postpone events involving more than 50 people over the next eight weeks.

“MLS remains focused on playing the entire 2020 season and is evaluating all options, including pushing back the end of the season and playing MLS Cup in December, as the league did prior to the 2019 season,” the league said in a statement. “The league is also identifying other available dates.”

For TFC, the May 10 possible return date would mean 10 games postponed — about a third of the 34-game schedule. The Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps both have eight games scheduled during that window.

The league has some leeway, having compressed its playoff schedule of late. Last year’s MLS Cup final — which saw Toronto lose 3-1 to Seattle — was held Nov. 10 as opposed to December in past years.

Vanney praised his staff at TFC, pointing to sport science director Jim Liston, strength and conditioning coach Tom Williams and the medical team.

“They’ve done an incredible job. We’ve created a platform for the players,” he said. “They’re logging on daily to these (virtual) conference rooms and they’re basically doing workouts together in groups. I’ve been on a couple of times just to see the guys and it’s been fantastic.”

For Vanney, one of the strengths of his club is its ability to problem-solve. Part of Thursday was spent on a conference call with the team’s training centre chef about offering some online cooking classes to help the players, especially the younger ones, and their families.

Also Thursday, CONCACAF postponed its Women’s Under-17 Championships, scheduled for April 18 to May 3 in Toluca, Mexico, and its Futsal Championships, May 1-10 in Guatemala. Canada was slated to compete in both events.

The United Soccer League, the second-tier U.S. league, said Wednesday it had extended its hiatus through May 10.

The Canadian Premier League announced last Friday it was suspending pre-season training for all its clubs for 14 days “to ensure a safe environment for our teams in the wake of COVID 19.” The CPL’s second season is scheduled to kick off April 11.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.