DOES GREG VANNEY DESERVE ALL THE CREDIT FOR SUCCESS AT TFC? DO HIS TEAMS OUTPERFORM THEIR SPENDING METRICS? HOW DOES HE CONSTRUCT HIS TEAMS?
Former Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney and his staff accomplished a lot with their former team from mid-2014 to 2020, culminating in the 2017 MLS Cup. So how does the “credit” pie break down? It’s tough to say because Vanney worked alongside general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, who is regarded as one of, if not the best, general managers in MLS. Most recently, Bezbatchenko won the 2020 MLS Cup as GM and President of the Columbus Crew, and in 2021 has already signed forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, winger Kevin Molino, and former Galaxy defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen. Meanwhile, Vanney is just coming off an MLS second-best points per game finish under another highly-regarded general manager in Ali Curtis. So while we may never actually know who deserves what percentage of the credit, we can, however, analyze how Vanney has done in terms of other quantifiable factors and how that might translate to the Galaxy.
SPENDING In mid-2014, Vanney took over and inherited a TFC team that had just invested more money in transfer fees and salary ($35.28M) than any other team up until that time by about $18.55M. As of today, it is still the most amount of money in transfer fees and salary that any team has ever spent in one season. But didn’t Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco come in 2015? Well, Altidore was basically a player swap for Jermaine Defoe and Giovinco came on – wait for it – a free transfer. Vanney’s teams consistently improved each year, culminating with an MLS Cup in 2017. However, 2018 then saw one of the largest MLS Cup hangovers in MLS history, when his team finished 9th in the East and 19th overall out of 23 teams. His teams again improved in 2019, where they lost in the MLS Cup, and in 2020 where they lost to Nashville in the Eastern Conference Semi-final.
Looking at the table below we see that 2017 was the only year that Vanney’s team equaled or outperformed (measured by point per game or PPG) their salary spending (Salary-PPG), team market value (Value-PPG), and salary plus transfer fee spending rankings (S+F-PPG). It also appears that 2020 would be included, however player salaries were not released by the players’ union. Essentially if you spend the most, then in theory you should always win. For context, 2014 had 19 teams, 2015 and 2016 had 20, 2017 had 22, 2018 had 23, 2019 had 24, and 2020 had 26.
Another point of interest is that his teams generally paid the most amount of money per point (S+F/PPG ranks teams by spending efficiency). What’s worse, no team in the history of MLS has underperformed their salary spending, team market value, and salary plus transfer fees as Vanney’s 2018 team. There are many reasons for this, one of which is the lack of spending on transfer fees and in particular TAM signings in the years leading up. While Vanney’s teams spent heavily on their DP’s, they failed to address the TAM-level signings and thus a gap began to emerge between their DP’s and their senior-rostered players.
The table below shows actual figures from the rankings of the table above. Among many things, we see that they essentially stopped spending on transfer fees after 2014, but picked it up again in 2019 after a poor 2018 season where they finished 19th out of 23 teams.
So if Vanney’s teams were generally the highest spenders, then where were the Galaxy? Well, they generally ranked second in salary spending — team value was around first — and consistently ranked near the bottom for spending efficiency (S+F/PPG). And in a similar fashion to Vanney’s teams, the Galaxy only equaled or outperformed their salary spending, team market value, and salary plus transfer fees spending rankings in 2014. In addition, 2015 did see them outperform their team market value. Generally speaking, both teams tended to underperform by most of the aforementioned measurements. What we gathered from this is that going forward it seems that Vanney will get all the financial support he needs in order to make the Galaxy championship contenders again. Like Toronto, Galaxy will be willing to open the checkbook for him.
PERSONNEL Vanney constructed his teams with great consistency throughout his tenure. His teams usually have 3 GK’s, 2-3 LB’s, 6 CB’s, 2 RB’s, 1-2 DM’s, 5 CM’s, 2 CAM’s, 1-2 LW’s, 2 RW’s, 1 SS, and 5 CF’s. Vanney’s teams always have 3 DP’s (4 total signed from 3 different leagues) and 2-3 TAM players (7 total signed from 5 different leagues) per season. They hit on all their DP’s and rarely missed on their TAM signings with Gregory Van der Wiel being the lone miss. Clearly, there was less of an emphasis on signing TAM players and more of an emphasis on signing high-salaried players who are just under the TAM threshold. Vanney’s teams were very top-heavy, but surprisingly got a lot out of their lesser-paid players (which may say a lot about Vanney’s ability to coach-up or improve individual players). When it came to international slots, he was not afraid to use them on non-starters. And with regard to age, Vanney inherited the 5th youngest team in 2014 that increased in average age each year and by 2020 had the oldest team in MLS.
With the Galaxy, there has been little consistency with the personnel makeup as they have gone through about 6 different head coaches and caretakers in the same span. True to form, however, they have always had 3 DP’s (9 total, signed from 5 different leagues) and on average 4 TAM players (18 total, signed from 9 different leagues and one free agent – Michael Ciani) per season. They missed on DP’s, such as Giovanni dos Santos, Steven Gerrard, and the jury is still out on Javier Hernandez. In addition, they also missed on TAM signings, such as Michael Ciani, Joao Pedro, Jorgen Skjelvik, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Aleksandar Katai (for non-playing reasons), and Yony Gonzalez. In a league with a salary cap, you have to do everything in your power to minimize the misses and mitigate your mistakes. The Galaxy placed an emphasis on signing DP’s as well as TAM players and less of an emphasis on signing high-salaried players who are just under the TAM threshold. To no Galaxy fan’s surprise, these teams were heavily reliant on their high-earners and results went as these players went.
The team now has a very similar roster positional makeup as Vanney’s teams did with the exception of fewer CM’s and CF’s, and no second striker. With a team heavy on domestic starters, it should come as no surprise if the Galaxy use some of their slots on non-starters as well as he has done in the past. In addition, Vanney is inheriting the 10th oldest team in 2020 and for a coach that has consistently preferred an older team, signings that can be relied upon for their intelligence, leadership, and technical ability will undoubtedly be pillars for his rebuild and change in culture.
This was Part 1 of a two-part article series. Part 2 will be out soon.