Coach offers TFC lesson from ’98 Galaxy
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.”
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.