TFC hopes experience, confidence lead to MLS championship

“I started to say, ‘Hey, this is not us.’“That was the only real concern. It’s a long game. “After the first goal and the second goal, the veteran players were saying: Calm down, we don’t need to get too amped up over this – we still have many, many minutes to play in a two-legged affair, and 90 of those minutes are at home.“I think it’s easier when you know you have that much time to recover from something. “So we would get a little out of hand in terms of how many guys would commit to the attack in trying to score goals and we’d take another goal.“This year, our group is much more stable and balanced in terms of the mindset of sticking with the plan and seeing it through all the way. Having experience on the field is important, but also just the messaging from the sideline and how we go about things is always important. Combine that with the home-field advantage for Saturday’s MLS Cup and you understand why TFC is favoured to beat the Seattle Sounders for the league championship. This group has grown to recognize how it works.” Toronto FC is still a team that likes to dig holes for itself, but that is where the similarity ends with teams from its first nine years in Major League Soccer.There is a sense on the team now that things will work out after a lead is squandered or the opposition is allowed a quick advantage. Then it’s easy for the guys to stick with it.”Thanks in part to the aforementioned personnel changes after last season, there are now enough veterans on the team that Vanney does not have to gather his troops after every on-field mishap and buck them up.“I was looking at their reactions on the field during that [Montreal] game,” Vanney said. You don’t have to get too caught up in it. If so, it will be the first time the Cup has gone to a Canadian-based team.Nowhere was the resiliency of TFC more aptly demonstrated than after the first half of the first game of the two-leg Eastern Conference final against the Montreal Impact.Montreal took a stunning 3-0 lead in the opening half, and TFC looked disorganized and dispirited.But over the next 135 minutes of soccer in Toronto and Montreal, TFC gathered itself, fought back, slipped again a few times, but each time struck back. Then we adjust as we need to during the course of the game.”TFC defender Steven Beitashour showed that confidence a few minutes earlier Tuesday when he was asked if there ever was a point in the playoffs when he worried that it was all over.“Never that it was going to end, but I’d say when we were down three-nothing to Montreal I started to worry a little bit,” he said. Eventually the Reds stole a 7-5 aggregate series win in extra time.Experience, preparation and confidence are the keys to bouncing back, according to TFC head coach Greg Vanney.Confidence, for example, was sorely lacking in the 2015 Reds, not to mention some defensive skill that was remedied with a few personnel changes.“In years past or last year, I don’t think we were a confident enough group that once we gave away one goal that we wouldn’t give away two or three goals,” Vanney said Tuesday after his team’s training session. “Preparation is always important, because if you know what you’re planning for, you know what you’re about to face.“And you believe in what your long-term objective is and what you’re capable of doing over the course of 90 minutes. The type of players we have, we always expect to score.”If a team is prepared well in the sense that it knows what to expect from an opponent and has weathered more than a few crises, according to Vanney, then it is well suited to shrug off a bad turn or three.“I think you gain that through experiences, a belief in what you’re doing as a group,” the coach said. No longer is a collapse inevitable after a few mistakes on the field.