Photo courtesy of MLS / Katie Cahalin

ANALYSIS: Vanney’s Northern Past

What can Greg Vanney’s numbers with Toronto FC tell us about how he might manage the LA Galaxy? And does he have pieces in place already?

If the past is the best indicator of the future, then by looking at some of Greg Vanney’s Toronto FC teams, we might be able to learn and see how the LA Galaxy may play under his tutelage.

We will look at how his offenses have fared throughout the years to try to determine where they have found success. As a preface, there is limited public data to work with from 2014-17. Thus, most of the substantive analysis will come from 2018-20, and in addition, we’ll be using per 90 stats for comparative reasons due to the shortened 2020 season.


Vanney took over TFC in the middle of 2014, finishing with a 1.26 goals/90 (G90), which was good for 12th overall out of 19 teams; a 1.68 G90 in 2015 (2nd out of 20 teams in MLS); 1.50 G90 in 2016 (6th/20 teams); 2.09 G90 in 2017 (1st/22); 1.71 G90 in 2018 (7th/23); 1.68 G90 in 2019 (4th/24); and 1.43 G90 in 2020 (12th/26). All of Vanney’s teams have been led in scoring by either a second striker and/or a central attacking midfielder in Sebastian Giovinco or Alejandro Pozuelo, followed up by a center forward in Jozy Altidore or Ayo Akinola. And the number of unique goal scorers has grown each year, indicating that his teams have become more balanced. Vanney may feel he has one of those pieces in Javier Hernandez, but the only players with true central attacking midfielder qualities are Efrain Alvarez and Sacha Kljestan — both of whom are not expected to be everyday starters.

Table. TFC goals per 90 minutes from 2014-20.

Offensive Performance

Looking at the xG data available, we see that Vanney’s teams had 1.71 xG in 2018 (4th/23), 1.41 xG in 2019 (15th/24), and 1.56 xG in 2020 (7th/26). By analyzing the number of goals scored per expected goals, we clearly see his teams have been inconsistent the past three years. As you can see in the graph below, in 2018, they had a 0.99 G/xG, a 1.19 G/xG in 2019, and a 0.92 G/xG in 2020 (in blue). Stats, such as G/xG tell you how good a player or team is at converting their chances. An average team has a 1.00 G/xG.

Surprisingly, while Giovinco led the team in scoring in 2018, he was very wasteful in his chances and had an individual 0.86 G/xG. And as indicated earlier, we not only saw more unique goal-scorers, but we also saw those performances and resulting percentages shift from predominantly forwards and attacking midfielders to now include central midfielders. Vanney himself notes that Hernandez can score in this league and that midfielder Sebastian Lletget put up his best G90 stats last season. So there will be space to sign more players that can get involved in the offense.

Table. TFC G90 ,xG90, and G/xG from 2018-20.

Key Offensive Numbers

Statistically, Vanney’s teams rank near the top in terms of raw numbers. From 2018-2020, his teams had an average ranking of 11th for key passes per 90 (KP; passes that lead directly to a shot), 6th for passes into the attacking third of the field (1/3), 5th for passes into the penalty area (PPA), and 9th for through balls (TB). Interestingly, all four stats are trending upwards.

It could be that these trends are indicative of a better collective offense and/or a greater reliance on midfield play as opposed to dependency on individual forward talent.

After all, Vanney’s offenses became more diverse with time and, unfortunately, had to manage with Altidore’s absence due to injuries. If the Galaxy can avoid any of the long-term injuries that have plagued the team in the past, it may see a resurgence in Jonathan Dos Santos to go along with Lletget’s improved play from 2020, and Julian Araujo and new signing Jorge Villafana’s involvement down the attacking wide areas.

Table. KP90, 1/3 per 90, PPA90, and TB90 per year.

Supplemental Offensive Stats

In addition, Vanney’s team averaged a ranking of 3rd for touches in the attacking third, 7th for touches in the penalty area, 7th for carries into the attacking third (a carry is when a player controls the ball with their feet), and 16th for carries into the penalty area. This makes sense because the more you have the ball, the more opportunity you have to accumulate these offensive stats.

Key Offensive Stats per Possession

Because Vanney’s teams had so much possession (roughly 54%), they ranked a little above average in terms of their offensive actions per possession. From 2018-20, his teams had an average ranking of 22nd for key passes per possession, 12th for passes into the attacking third of the field, 12th for passes into the penalty area, and 14th for through balls.

Essentially what this means is that they aren’t and/or can’t always play directly and often have to maintain possession and remain patient to find openings before making the final pass. Again, we see most of these stats trending in an upward direction. Vanney will task midfielders like Lletget and Dos Santos to push the offense forward all while maintaining possession.

Table. KP/Poss, PA3 per Poss, PPA/Poss, and TB/Poss per year.

While these stats don’t paint the whole picture, they do give us a good idea of how an offense is performing. On their own, they are somewhat a cause for concern because there are indications of regression from 2018-20 in terms of goal-scoring. But there are positives in their ability to attack and break down teams to create chances. Although Vanney’s teams were able to create many good chances, unfortunately, they were wasteful with them. But they dominated possession, were very attack-minded, and were good goal creators and shot creators.

The bright spots to note are that his teams have played with, and have been led by, an MLS-elite player with central attacking midfielder qualities, who is the type of player Galaxy fans have been asking for for a long time. They have also seen more players involved in the attack and less of a reliance on forwards.

And the Galaxy may have some of the pieces Vanney needs to mold the team as he sees fit. That includes a forward like Hernandez that can be on the end of final passes, central midfielders like Lletget and Dos Santos that could move the ball into dangerous areas, as well as defenders like Araujo and Villafana that can aid in the attack.