Tag Archives: Greg Vanney

Atlanta’s Miguel Almiron shines brightest in entertaining draw at Toronto FC

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The recurring theme witnessed throughout the start of Toronto FC’s 2017 campaign involves Greg Vanney’s Reds serving as frustrated figures against organized defensive units. However, stylistically, Atlanta United FC’s visit to BMO Field presented a contrasting challenge that should’ve favoured last year’s MLS Cup finalists.

But despite TFC’s star-studded attacking options upfront against a fairly open travelling Atlanta side, the Reds designated players were outshone by Miguel Almiron and Hector Daniel Villalba. The former’s appreciation of space exposed TFC’s imbalanced midfield, whereas the make-shift back three, featuring Chris Mavinga’s first home start, were terrorized by the latter’s pace.

Almiron’s threat was evident in the opening two minutes when the Paraguayan drifted goal side of Bradley to received possession to ignite an attack, whilst minutes later dribbling past the TFC captain before being shrugged off the ball by Armando Cooper. This year, teams have preferred to sit back and attempt to nick a goal on the counter attack against the Reds, but Atlanta’s proactive approach flustered the hosts.

One aspect of TFC’s game that’s often overlooked is their vulnerability in central areas out of possession, particularly when Bradley is forced to mark an intelligent no.10 in the mould of Almiron. Likewise, the aforementioned threat of Almiron and Villalba led to Atlanta’s opener, as the former received the ball in acres of space to the left of Bradley and instantly slid a through ball behind Mavinga resulting in Villalba slotting his shot past goalkeeper Alex Bono.

In recent matches, TFC encountered periodic difficulties because opposing forwards and advanced midfielders would solely focus on limiting Bradley’s time on the ball. Here, Almiron dominated the TFC captain in both phases: The Paraguayan harried Bradley when he received the ball, but also cleverly received possession in pockets of space across the final third. Almiron’s teammates also aided the Paraguayan with his defensive duties to force Bradley into conceding possession cheaply, as Martino’s men were comfortable in possession and utilized the pace of the forwards and Almiron’s creativity.

Still, the issue with playing so open against the hosts equally presents space for TFC to utilize in the final third. Ultimately, TFC’s equalizer was a combination of Victor Vazquez’s advanced positioning and the link-up play between Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. It was one of the rare moves where Altidore moved towards the ball – as he often aimed to charge behind the Atlanta back-line or dart into the channels – when Giovinco dropped into midfield.

Altidore and Giovinco were both guilty of spurning opportunities around the box, with majority of the chances stemming from Giovinco’s deep positioning, Bradley receiving the freedom to push forward, and Vazquez playing closer to the opposition’s penalty box. TFC took the lead in the final minutes of the first half via Jeff Larentowicz’s poor clearance that led to Vazquez guiding Steven Beitashour to the byline to combine with fellow wing-back Justin Morrow for an easy tap-in.

Nonetheless, Atlanta equalized within the first minute of the second half following another defensive lapse from Mavinga, which invited Villalba to latch onto a simple long ball over the TFC defence and coolly notch his second goal of the night. Martino’s men increased the tempo of their game and successfully dispossessed Bradley and Vazquez to ignite swift transitional breaks with Almiron being denied twice by Bono.

Where the Paraguayan’s threat briefly decreased in the first half when he dropped ahead of the TFC midfield, the variation in movement towards the channel and beyond the defence reinvigorated Atlanta’s offensive threat. Almiron and Villalba continued to pester the Reds with their direct counter-attacks, but apart from audacious long distance efforts from Vazquez, Vanney’s men were quiet in the second half.

Martino’s men dropped closer towards goal in the second half to limit space behind the defence, but the congested midfield zone, and diligent defensive work from the away side’s wide players nullified TFC’s productivity in the final third. With Yamil Asad wrongly sent off in the final 15 minutes, Martino sacrificed his star players to preserve a point in what will be classified as a remarkable away performance.

Very few MLS sides can come to BMO Field and outperform Vanney’s Reds, but here, Almiron dominated the centre of the pitch, and displayed a proactive method to exploit Bradley’s deficiencies as the sole pivot. Stifling Bradley has developed into a pattern that most sides are leaning towards, and though TFC’s profligacy in the final third may eventually translate into goals, their productivity on both ends of the field can no longer be taken lightly.

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Posted by on April 10, 2017 in Published Work


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Resilient Sporting KC stick to the script to frustrate Vanney’s profligate TFC

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Toronto FC’s issues around the opposition’s box was on full display in a scoreless draw with Sporting Kansas City. Greg Vanney’s men haven’t scored a goal from open play against 11 men since last year’s second leg conference final triumph, and their profligacy around the box is developing into a noteworthy concern.

The first half, however, was a rarely intriguing tactical battle at this level that witnessed both sides negate the oppositions threat in contrasting manners. TFC preferred to press higher up the pitch with Tosaint Ricketts and Sebastian Giovinco closing down the centre-backs, while Victor Vasquez or initially Michael Bradley pushed forward to limit Ilie Sanchez’s time on the ball.

TFC wing-backs Steven Beitashour and Raheem Edwards also aggressively stepped higher to prevent the Sporting KC full-backs from receiving space to drive forward, whereas the midfield battle was fairly scrappy. Meanwhile, the shuttlers encountered difficulties retaining possession and gaining ascendancy in central areas due to the aforementioned congestion, which therefore stifled the creative players from both sides.

The away side, on the other hand, retreated into a 4-1-4-1 out of possession with the wide players sitting narrow, and striker Dom Dwyer remaining goal-side of TFC captain Michael Bradley. It was another ploy to force the TFC centre-backs to build attacks, whereas Bradley’s inability to alleviate Dwyer’s pressure ensured the Reds were deprived creativity in deeper midfield zones.

This was essentially a major issue for the hosts with Giovinco starved of service over lengthy periods, and Jozy Altidore’s capability of dropping into the midfield zone to link play was required. Likewise, the intent to mark out Bradley has been successfully utilized by all TFC opponents this season, thus forcing the hosts elsewhere to move forward.

Peter Vermes’ men struggled going forward due to TFC’s pressing and were unable to launch proper counter-attacks. But similar to TFC, the midfielders couldn’t link play with the attackers, and the ploy to push the wing-backs forward to provide natural width – wide forward Soony Saad and Gerso Fernandes moved centrally to combine with Dwyer – backfired due to Beitashour and Edwards’ defensive discipline.

Nonetheless, TFC created the better chances in the first half through width from the left flank, and Giovinco’s diverse movement to pull the away side out of position. It took nine minutes for Giovinco to drop beyond half to receive the ball and combine with Edwards down the left and the move resulted in Vasquez locating Beitashour unmarked in half space, but his pull-back for the aforementioned Italian was scuffed. Another move following a rare Bradley switch of play saw Edwards identify Giovinco between the lines, but once again Beitashour’s great positioning was wasted following the right wing-back’s pass behind an unmarked Vasquez.

The Reds main threat involved Edwards – an academy product enjoying his first full start for the club – driving down the left flank. The left wing-back bamboozled Graham Zusi with a clever turn and played a pass to Giovinco in a pocket of space, which led to an opportunity that Jonathan Osorio scuffed wide of the net. Afterwards, Edwards play Ricketts free down the left channel, but the Canadian international’s poor decision-making halted a promising move.

Another variation of TFC’s dominance down the left occurred in the latter stages of the first half when Edwards moved to an advanced central position to drag Zusi with him, while Nick Hagglund stormed forward down the left channel. This was risky due to Gerso’s threat in transition, but it also pegged the attacker into his own half away from the isolated Dwyer. These positional alterations eventually witnessed Hagglund sneak past Gerso to cross the ball to Osorio in the six-yard box, but the TFC midfielder skied his shot over the net.

Although Sporting KC improved in the opening 15 minutes of the second half via high pressing – it led to a poor Bradley pass that nearly resulted in a Dwyer winner – TFC still found joy through Edwards down the left flank. However, the TFC homegrown product wasted a golden opportunity and was unable to connect his crosses with teammates.

Conversely, with the away side tiring throughout the second half, the TFC midfield suddenly gained control of the game, whereas Giovinco began to receive passes between the lines before charging towards the box. Vermes’ men posed a few saves from Alex Bono in the final half hour, yet TFC were unable to test Sporting KC keeper, Tim Melia, despite ample territorial dominance.

In another match this season where a narrow back-line left the Reds perplexed, Vermes’ approach can be classified as an efficient defensive scheme several MLS teams may adopt on their travels to BMO Field this season. In truth, it limits TFC’s option to utilize their pace on the counter-attack, and with no players capable of building attacks from deep in the current setup, this appears a logical method to disrupt arguably the best offence in the league.

Abandoning the system that provided last year’s success would be extreme, but it’s certainly time to consider instilling flexibility to a rather bland Reds attack.

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Posted by on April 1, 2017 in Published Work


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Tactical Preview: Toronto FC – Seattle

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Toronto FC reaching its first MLS Cup final is a huge landmark and this would be the ideal manner to claim the club’s first piece of silverware. In terms of overall depth and home advantage, TFC are genuine favourites, but this is a battle between an in-form attack, and the best defensive unit in the playoffs.

TFC’s defensive issues were exploited on the counter-attack against the Montreal Impact, and coincidentally Seattle offers a similar threat with slight variations. The Reds are expected to dominate possession in front of their home crowd and onus will be on Seattle to remain compact and resolute.

The Sounders proved they’re capable of the aforementioned traits in their second leg victory at Colorado by defending narrow around the penalty area – the approach Montreal adopted against Greg Vanney’s men. TFC, however, rely on width from wing-backs Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour, whom will push forward to help create space around the box.

However, the Seattle midfield consists of the dynamism Mauro Biello’s men lacked in central areas, whilst still maintaining a solid base ahead of the back four. Therefore, Osvaldo Alonso’s fitness is a key talking point ahead of kick off.

The Sounders will play in a hybrid of a 4-2-3-1 /4-3-3, deploying a midfielder slightly ahead of the double-pivot, but Alonso’s presence enables Cristian Roldan and Erik Friberg the freedom to drive forward and join the attack. Alonso’s passing range is also an outlet utilized to build attacks from deep areas and Vanney will need to instruct Altidore or a member of his midfield trio to limit the Cuban’s threat.

Although Jonathan Osorio’s guile is an asset to the TFC midfield, Vanney will likely name an unchanged midfield trio. Will Johnson’s experience and grit in midfield ensures Michael Bradley isn’t overrun, whereas Armando Cooper’s ball-winning skills and tireless work-rate has helped the Reds win midfield battles throughout the second half of the season.

Another interesting aspect of the match takes place in wide areas. Seattle’s full-backs, specifically, Joevin Jones – Tyrone Mears gets forward but his influence in the final third is scarce –  who’s recorded three assists in this year’s post-season offers an additional source of creativity. But Sounders coach, Brian Schmetzer may encourage his full-backs to remain deep like they did in Colorado to prevent Giovinco and Altidore from drifting into the channels in transition.

Still, TFC’s defence remains their weak point, and Seattle’s attack contains various threats. Jordan Morris’ pace and willingness to break beyond the defence could trouble Beitashour and Eriq Zavaleta. Nelson Valdez is a penalty box poacher, but his ability to link play with the midfield and runners beyond the opposition’s defence means the Reds can’t afford the Paraguayan time to receive the ball.

Ultimately, Lodeiro is the key man behind Seattle’s success during the second half of the season. Capable of playing behind Valdez or off the right flank – Schmetzer should and probably will opt for the latter – Nicolas Lodeiro drifts across the pitch finding space to receive the ball and push his teammates forward.

Besides direct pacy dribbling, in many ways Lodeiro is similar to Ignacio Piatti, and equally completes his defensive work diligently. If Lodeiro drifts laterally and is unable to find pace between the lines, the Sounders creator is willing to move into midfield to build passing moves. This is one of the few reasons why Vanney will persist with Johnson in midfield: solely with the aim to help Bradley contain Lodeiro’s touches on the ball within the TFC half.

Nevertheless, despite Seattle’s competent attack and well-rounded, dynamic midfield, the key to the away side’s success hinges on their ability to contain Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. Altidore’s varied movement – coming short and drifting beyond the defence – has proved a nuisance to opposing defenders, but more importantly the American’s physical advantage against the Sounders back-line could be decisive.

Elsewhere, Giovinco is due for a big game, but attempting to dominate in a congested area isn’t the solution here. Apart from their renowned transitional attacks, Giovinco may be instructed to drift towards the left to create overloads and ensure Mears doesn’t push forward to provide width when Lodeiro drifts centrally in search of possession.

Here, the key for TFC is patience and quickly switching the play out into wide areas to stretch the Sounders back-line. But unlike their tie with Montreal, a level of caution must be instilled to cope with Morris’ pace and Lodeiro’s ability to pick out the correct pass from practically any area on the pitch.

Several match-winners off the bench, and countless goal-scoring threats in the final third suggests the Reds should triumph on home soil, but Vanney’s tactical dexterity has equally been pivotal, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the TFC manager was the pivotal factor once again. The Sounders possess the personnel capable of playing on the counter, and given TFC’s issues against Montreal, can the Reds rectify the defensive errors made in the conference final?

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Posted by on December 10, 2016 in Published Work


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