As one notable American seems to prove on a daily basis, being in a position of leadership does not automatically make someone a leader.
But as the longest-tenured – and most successful – head coach in the history of Toronto FC, Greg Vanney has grown into the role. While he will always be remembered for delivering the first Major League Soccer championship in franchise history, his leadership at times such as now may well be what ultimately defines him, particularly within the four walls of the team’s dressing room.
With the squad set to fly to Orlando and the ESPN Wide World of Sports campus on Friday, this week’s news that six FC Dallas players and a member of the Columbus Crew had tested positive for the novel coronavirus while inside of the MLS bubble, which is supposed to keep players and staff safe, had him worried.
It also left him questioning the league directive that all teams be in Florida seven days ahead of their first games in the MLS is Back tournament. TFC is scheduled to play its first round-robin match against D.C. United on July 10.
“We all feel like we’re in a pretty good spot here where we are,” Vanney said on a conference call Thursday, having just finished training with the team.
“The question I would have would be, do we need to be down there seven days early or can we stay here in this place where we’re very comfortable with testing? There’s not a lot of what’s going on in the U.S. happening here in Toronto, because people have been much more diligent and responsible. Leadership has been clear.”
As part of the team’s return to practice, TFC players and staff have been tested every other day to ensure that the protocols and measures that have been put in place are keeping the team healthy.
That rigid adherence has been inconvenient at times, such as on Canada Day, when the team planned a special intra-squad simulation game. The match was scheduled to take place at BMO Field at 9 a.m. to replicate the exact timing that the team will face in its third group game against the New England Revolution, but it had to be abandoned a couple of hours prior because the coronavirus test results from a U.S. company had been held up at the border. As a result, a planned day off on Thursday was cancelled so practice could take place once the negative results had been returned.
While the developments in Florida – the “epicentre of the virus,” as he calls it – have left Vanney concerned, it has also thrown up many other questions as to whether other teams have been following the same kinds of protocols as diligently.
He doesn’t think so, and the results are plain to see.
“For me, that’s what’s happening in Florida,” he says. “There are guys, players, who weren’t doing the right things prior to coming into the bubble and thought it was okay to sit in restaurants and now they’re coming into the bubble.
“I’m very confident with what our guys have been doing and that has tested out for us. We’re going to do our job down there and I trust our guys in that way. The problem is we rely on everybody to do the same thing.”
Vanney will consult with the likes of TFC president Bill Manning to see if there is any way to delay the team’s trip to Orlando, but admits that he doesn’t “know where [those conversations are] going to go.”
He’s also had to deal with something else that landed on his plate on Thursday.
Rookie forward Ifunanyachi Achara, who scored the only goal of the game in the team’s home-opening victory in March, tore his ACL during Thursday’s scrimmage and will be out the remainder of the season. Drafted by Toronto last January, the Nigeria native had impressed Vanney with his versatility, as well as his drive to improve.
“Every challenge we put in front of him he met with real quality and composure,” Vanney said. “We’re going to miss him.”
The news was tempered slightly by the fact that Jozy Altidore, TFC’s principal striker, has now completed his quarantine after returning from the United States last month, and will be able to train with the rest of the team on Friday.
Those developments mean that whenever TFC does embark for Florida, it will do so with a squad of 29 players, of which it will be able to dress 23 for games.
It won’t help ease any predeparture nerves that Florida set a record on Thursday with 10,109 new cases of COVID-19, surpassing last Saturday’s 9,585 cases, to raise the total to almost 170,000 cases.
But despite the chaos that is seemingly reigning in the Sunshine State, as well as the “very little leadership going on down there outside of the bubble,” Vanney said he is not about to put pressure on players or staff to feel as though they have to go.
“Every guy on our team has an individual decision and an individual right to feel the way they do, and to make the decisions that they’re going to make,” he says. “So far, everybody is on board and ready to go down and we’re all excited to play.”