Coach of­fers TFC les­son from ’98 Galaxy

Vancouver Sun - - SPORTS - STEVE BUFFERY SBuf­fery@post­media.com Twit­ter: @Beez­er­sun

Toronto FC head coach Greg Van­ney is de­ter­mined to have his name erased from the record books. He’d be thrilled if it hap­pened.

One of Van­ney’s goals this sea­son is for TFC to set the MLS reg­u­lar-sea­son points record, a mark that stands at 68. The Reds have 59 points with six games to play and need 10 points out of a pos­si­ble 18 to set the record.

The way TFC has been play­ing — win­ners of five straight and un­de­feated in their last 10 — the mark is cer­tainly at­tain­able. And if they do set the record, the team they’d knock out of the his­tory books is the 1998 Los An­ge­les Galaxy — an ex­plo­sive, highly en­ter­tain­ing side led in part that year by a young de­fender named Greg Van­ney.

“That def­i­nitely was a fun team to play for,” Van­ney said be­fore his club’s work­out Fri­day af­ter­noon at L.A.’s Stub Hub Cen­ter. The Reds take on the Galaxy tonight, with­out stars Se­bas­tian Giovinco and Jozy Alti­dore, who re­mained in Toronto to take care of “tight­ness” is­sues.

“When you’re win­ning games and scor­ing goals and hav­ing con­fi­dence when you step on the field, that makes it a fun sea­son,” the coach said.

“No ques­tion, ev­ery­body likes win­ning. We had three guys in the top 10 in scor­ing (Cobi Jones, Wel­ton and Mauri­cio Cien­fue­gos) that year, which was kind of un­heard of. When guys are hav­ing that much suc­cess in a sea­son it tends to bring in some fun into the locker-room.”

On top of their 68 points, the Galaxy that sea­son scored 85 goals, a record Van­ney’s Toronto side has lit­tle chance of break­ing. TFC would have to score 27 goals in their last six games.

Look­ing back on that 1998 Galaxy team, Van­ney has bit­ter­sweet mem­o­ries, not­ing the 1998 Galaxy sea­son is a good les­son for his TFC squad. The Galaxy had it all that year — ex­cept an MLS cham­pi­onship.

“We had good de­fend­ing guys. Dan (Calich­man) and Robin (Fraser), my two as­sis­tants (on TFC), were the two cen­tre backs at the start of that year and I was a left back,” Van­ney said. “That team scored goals be­cause there was such a free­dom to go for­ward and to get num­bers go­ing for­ward, where guys were re­ally con­fi­dent on that at­tack­ing side. A few guys had ca­reer years in scor­ing and the con­fi­dence just built and it grew and it just kept go­ing.

“We were go­ing into games and it wasn’t a mat­ter if we were go­ing to score, it was a mat­ter of when and how many, and who was go­ing to score first. We had good sta­bil­ity in our back line, which al­lowed peo­ple to re­ally com­mit them­selves to get into the at­tack, and good things were com­ing out of that.”

But — and this is the les­son Van­ney wants TFC to heed — all that suc­cess didn’t guar­an­tee any­thing in the play­offs.

“We were much more freeflow­ing in terms of how things went. It wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily real struc­tured or su­per-tac­ti­cal per se, but there was a lot of free­dom and there was a lot of con­fi­dence and we had good play­ers,” the coach said.

“It was just kind of the era of MLS, too. It wasn’t a su­per tac­ti­cal league. It was early. And against the big­gest teams (other teams) couldn’t re­ally match up with the speed and power.”

In their first play­off game that year, Van­ney’s Galaxy crushed the Dal­las Burn 6-1. But in the con­fer­ence fi­nal they ran into the Chicago Fire and failed to score a goal, los­ing 1-0.

Chicago beat DC United for the MLS Cup.

“As good as it was for us dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son and as many goals we put up, we weren’t ca­pa­ble of clos­ing out the play­offs and get­ting our­selves into a cham­pi­onship game,” Van­ney said. “We ran into a Chicago team that was stingy and or­ga­nized de­fen­sively. Bob Bradley was the coach and while they had some good play­ers, they were a stingy de­fen­sive team that was tough and we were un­able to move on and win any­thing.”

Not that Toronto needs to be re­minded to stay the course or re­main fo­cused on the task at hand, but there were cer­tainly valu­able lessons to be learned from that 1998 Galaxy team, and it’s an ex­pe­ri­ence Van­ney will never for­get.

“You’ve got to be a very bal­anced team and you’ve got to be able to play as a group in or­der to win a cham­pi­onship,” he said. “The team that scores the most goals on a con­sis­tent ba­sis isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the team that wins. You’ve got to have a good, solid de­fend­ing team be­cause when you get to the play­offs, one mis­take can cost you. You just can’t give away goals.”

CHRIS SZAGOLA/AP

Toronto FC coach Greg Van­ney was a de­fender on the 1998 L.A. Galaxy squad that set the MLS points record, but lost in the con­fer­ence fi­nal.

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