Oftentimes in professional sports, the coach of the league’s best team is overlooked when it comes time to hand out end-of-season awards.
Perhaps it’s too obvious at times to simply award a league’s Coach of the Year to the manager of the best team. It’s easier and more enticing to look for a manager who has done more with less, a coach who has overachieved and taken an unfancied side further than anybody expected.
In Major League Soccer this season, however, the obvious choice is also the correct one. Toronto FC's Greg Vanney is our pick for MLS Coach of the Year.
After a heartbreaking loss to Seattle at home in the MLS Cup last season, TFC bounced back in a big way in 2017. Vanney guided his side to 69 points this season, setting the MLS record for most points in a season while cruising to the Supporters’ Shield.
A look at TFC’s accomplishments in 2017 is staggering, and bolsters the club's claim as one of the greatest teams the league has seen: TFC collected the third-most points per game (2.03) in MLS history, tied for the most wins (20) in MLS history, tied for the second-most goals scored (74) in MLS history, and the second-best goal differential total in league history (plus-37).
Vanney was the man behind it all, as his 3-5-2 system proved incredibly effective and forced other coaches around the league to adjust their tactics to deal with TFC.
Sure, TFC has high-priced talent like Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco. But Vanney put them all in a system that gives them the best chance to succeed, and has managed to still get results when one or more of TFC’s dynamic trio is injured.
Vanney has skillfully utilized Toronto’s blend of veterans and academy players and got every man on the roster to buy in, even with the club's depth meaning many TFC reserves would have bigger roles on almost any other MLS team.
“What we have is an environment where Greg and his staff and all of the players feel like we’re in something together,” Bradley told The Toronto Star. “That sounds simple, but that’s not an easy thing to create.”
2. Carl Robinson: With a much smaller budget than many of his Western Conference rivals, Robinson led Vancouver to a third-place finish, just a point behind first-place Portland.
3. Gerardo "Tata" Martino: The former Barcelona boss did wonders with expansion side Atlanta United. First, he managed to recruit South American stars Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, Yamil Asad and Hector Villalba, then he turned the Five Stripes into a force, making the playoffs and posting a plus-30 goal differential in their first MLS season.
4. Veljko Paunovic: After back-to-back seasons as the league’s worst team, the Fire turned around in Paunovic's second season in charge. The Serbian utilized some shrewd acquisitions, like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty, to help the club to a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
5. Gregg Berhalter: The Columbus Crew boss led his team on a late-season surge, turning around the club’s fortunes with a long string of unbeaten matches. That stretch began in early August and didn't end until the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal against New York City FC, with Columbus still triumphing on aggregate.