With everyone on board, Toronto FC coach finally able to settle on starting 11
Head coach of Toronto FC Greg Vanney is seen directing his team against the Colorado Rapids in the first half of an MLS soccer match in Commerce City, Colo., on April 14, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, David Zalubowski
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, August 9, 2019 1:57PM EDT
TORONTO -- With 10 regular-season games remaining and a healthy roster, Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney is finally able to start settling on a preferred starting 11.
Venezuelan winger Erickson Gallardo, whose debut was delayed by a quad strain, saw his first action off the bench Wednesday in Toronto's 2-0 Canadian Championship semifinal win in Ottawa. French midfielder Nicolas Benezet debuted off the bench in last weekend's 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls and started against Ottawa.
Centre back Omar Gonzalez, the third player to come on board during the summer transfer window, has settled in nicely at the heart of the TFC backline with four starts already under his belt.
The June addition of winger Jacob Shaffelburg as a homegrown player has added to the midfield congestion with Gallardo, Benezet and Shaffelburg joining Jonathan Osorio, Marky Delgado, Nick DeLeon, Tsubasa Endoh, Jay Chapman and Liam Fraser all fighting for places alongside captain Michael Bradley and star playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo in Vanney's 4-3-2-1 formation.
With Jozy Altidore leading the attack and Quentin Westberg secure as the No. 1 goalkeeper behind a backline of Justin Morrow, Chris Mavinga, Gonzalez and Brazil's Auro -- who is being pushed by Richie Laryea -- the rest of the team is pretty much set.
Vanney welcomes the selection headaches.
"It's been great for training," he said. "The level of training is high, the competition is high. The selection (is) more difficult. The conversations with guys when aren't in the lineup more difficult. But everybody is locked in and looking forward to this next little series of games, all of them very important."
Vanney says he has a sense of his best 11, but adds "that will probably evolve over the next three or four games possibly."
When it comes to the midfield, he is looking for the right balance between "passers and receivers."
"I think we have those personalities now, more than we've had in the recent past, that's for sure," he added.
Vanney hopes consistency in the lineup will help end some of the inconsistency shown on the field -- sometimes in the same game.
Vanney has often said that a large part of Toronto's championship run in 2017 was the depth of the roster, with reserve players pushing the first team at every training session.
Options are especially welcome now given Toronto, which hosts Orlando City on Saturday, is in the midst of five games in 15 days as the team juggles MLS and Canadian Championship duties.
As promised, Vanney is essentially using a different squad for the Canadian Championship than for league play. His starting lineup in the first leg against Ottawa featured just one regular starter in Morrow and he played because he is suspended for Saturday's game after getting a red card last time out.
Vanney is now tasked with finding the right combination as his team looks to climb back into the playoff picture. Toronto (9-10-5) enters weekend play in eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, one point out of the playoffs and three points ahead of ninth-place Orlando (8-11-5).
Gonzalez believes Toronto has the talent to get the job done and will rise up the table if its does not get too far ahead of itself.
"I think if we focus on the present, we're a good enough team with good enough players who can handle business," the U.S. international said after training Friday.
Eight of Toronto's 10 remaining league games are against East opposition.
One wonders how much further up the table Toronto would be if players like Gonzalez could have arrived in the transfer window prior to the season.
Hindsight aside, Vanney says he now has the pieces he needs.
"It's just a challenge of quickly getting everybody there and on that page and connected to each other, the new guys included."
Orlando is coming off a 2-0 loss to Atlanta United in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday. Coach James O'Connor did not hold back on his midweek lineup with designated players Dom Dwyer and Nani both starting. Toronto left its DPs -- Altidore, Bradley and Pozuelo -- at home for the Ottawa trip.
The lone injury question mark for Vanney is DeLeon (hip) who trained Friday but is listed as questionable.