TORONTO – The moment came, but then it quickly passed for Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney.
Shortly after the final whistle blew on Toronto’s 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew, a result that sent the Reds through to the MLS Cup, a makeshift stage was hastily erected in the middle of the pitch at BMO Field. It was there that TFC was officially awarded the Eastern Conference championship trophy, which captain Michael Bradley accepted and hoisted high above his head as fireworks went off in the background.
Bradley and his teammates jumped up and down on the stage, passing the trophy around to one another as fans cheered them on from the terraces. Mixed in among the players were trainers and support staff, assistant coaches, general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, club president Bill Mannning, and Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. It was a joyous scene of pure revelry, just reward for emerging victorious in a tightly-contested semifinal playoff series.
One man was conspicuous by his absence, though, as Vanney wasn’t on the stage, wildly jubilating with his players. Toronto’s coach was quietly off to the side, politely applauding the achievement of advancing to an MLS Cup final for a second consecutive season.
He was pleased with the win, of course. But the soft-spoken, unassuming Vanney isn’t one to seek out the spotlight. On the contrary – he shuns it, and he is often embarrassed by the notice he receives as the man in charge of the best team in MLS.
Vanney was that type of player, too. As an MLS defender of some repute during his playing career, he quietly went about his business on the pitch, anxious to not draw attention to himself. Once one game was over, he was already thinking about the next one.
That was the case on Wednesday night. Beating Columbus was fine, and the players had every right to enjoy the moment. But Vanney was already planning ahead to next Saturday’s MLS Cup final at BMO Field.
“At the end of the day, [the players] left it all out there and for them it was a moment to celebrate. You should celebrate all of these accomplishments along the way,” Vanney said.
“I was just stepping aside and letting them celebrate it. For me, the next one is the most important one. For me, I am focused on that one. [The players] are too. But I was already emotionally getting ready to move onto the next thing and wrapping my head around that.”
It is this steely, unflinching focus that defines Vanney as a coach, and helped him lead Toronto to a Supporters’ Shield and a league record 69 points during the 2017 regular season.
Vanney has clearly imparted his ethos into his players. After the win against Columbus, and following the celebrations on the pitch were over, the team headed back to the locker-room. While a few beers were downed, there were no champagne bottles uncorked. It was a fairly subdued scene, with the players having got the wild celebrations out of their systems during the trophy presentation.
“There’s wasn’t much [celebration]. The guys celebrated on the field, and part of that was sharing the moment with the fans,” Vanney said.
Like Vanney, his players were already thinking ahead.
“We know from winning the Eastern Conference last year that it doesn’t mean nearly as much unless we complete the deal this time around. Knowing that has given us our edge this season. So, we toed the line on Wednesday of celebrating, but also knowing in the back of our heads that the ultimate goal is still ahead of us, and the real celebrations will take place after that,” defender Eriq Zavaleta told Sportsnet.
The memory of last year’s shootout loss to Seattle in the MLS Cup final still lingers. While TFC has certainly used it as motivation as they’ve progressed through the season, they haven’t obsessed over it. The players have focused on themselves and found a way to move on to the next task, putting each accomplishment along the way in the proper perspective.
“We’ve done a good job this year of compartmentalizing each win, each trophy, every step we’ve taken, and have quickly been able to move our attention onto the next thing. That’s where we are. This is what we’ve worked one year for, to have this opportunity again, so all of our attention, mine especially, is moving forward on the task at hand in front of us,” Vanney said.