With Toronto FC's front office working to help the franchise secure its first playoff appearance, it's been a news-filled week for the slumping club ahead of its Eastern Conference matchup with the Philadelphia Union.
Following manager Ryan Nelsen's dismissal, Greg Vanney will make his debut on the bench Wednesday night as Toronto tries to snap Philadelphia's home unbeaten streak with its first-ever win at PPL Park.
TFC (9-9-6) made several high-profile moves leading up to this season with designs on reaching the playoffs for the first time in its eight-year history. The club started out 6-4-1, but injuries to star Jermain Defoe and key defenders have led to a slump.
The front office hoped to spark a turnaround after Saturday's 3-0 home loss to New England by firing Nelsen and tabbing Vanney, head of TFC Academy, as his replacement. Nelsen guided the club to a combined 18-28-18 record in MLS play and the Amway Canadian Championship in his two seasons.
"Our recent results have fallen below our expectations and a change was needed," general manager Tim Bezbatchenko told the team's official website. "Greg is a person that possesses all the qualities that align with our vision for Toronto FC."
Vanney, 40, joined Toronto as the assistant general manager and academy director in December. He spent time with Los Angeles and Dallas in his MLS playing career before more recently serving an assistant under Robin Fraser with Chivas.
"We're in a good position in the standings," he said of Toronto, tied for third with 33 points. "I know the players in our room believe in each other and we are looking forward to a positive response on Wednesday."
Although Defoe is expected to be sidelined with an abductor strain, Toronto made a huge commitment to winning this season by announcing Monday that it had turned down a big-money transfer offer for the forward.
Defoe has a team-high 11 goals but has appeared in only two of the past seven matches, most recently a 77-minute stint against Chicago on Aug. 23. Toronto hopes he can return for a home rematch with the Union (7-9-9) on Saturday.
TFC could also be missing Warren Creavalle, Steven Caldwell and Justin Morrow in Vanney's debut against Philadelphia, which has an opportunity to pull even with Toronto.
The Union can match a team record by extending their home undefeated streak to nine across all competitions. They've gone 6-0-2 while outscoring opponents 22-12 in that stretch, including three victories in U.S. Open Cup play.
Philadelphia is 3-0-2 all-time against Toronto at PPL Park.
"(Toronto) has had some changes, but we've been stressing that this game is about us," Union interim manager Jim Curtin said. "We control our own destiny at home with the majority of our games being here."
Philadelphia's Sebastien Le Toux has a team-best 11 goals, including nine with nine assists in his last 11 matches. He recorded a goal and three assists in a 4-2 home win over San Jose in the team's last match Aug. 24.
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- Ryan Nelsen
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