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Toronto FC GM Tim Bezbatchenko still focused on playoffs, Champions League return

Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko says he has not given up on making the playoffs despite the Reds' low position in the standings. (Gerry Angus/USA TODAY Sports)

TORONTO — Most know the situation by now: Toronto FC has four wins in 19 MLS games and sits 11 points back of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

The Reds’ woes since their run to the Concacaf Champions League final have become so severe many question whether they should even bother to try to resuscitate their 2018 campaign. Perhaps, the argument goes, they should prioritize the Canadian Championship, which will give them a route back to the Champions League, and get a head start on planning for 2019. That process could include steps toward rebuilding the team and increasing the club’s supply of allocation money.

The future of Jonathan Osorio is being discussed this month, but otherwise, it is not an argument Toronto general manager Tim Bezbatchenko subscribes to.

“When we first came into this club with this project, I think we’ve built the success over the past four to five years with stability, continuity as our drivers,” Bezbatchenko said this week. “When we’re having a dip in form, in some confidence, with some injuries — that’s sort of a perfect storm. We’re not starting to talk about anything other than the cause of the problems, and we don’t need to rebuild. To a T, everyone in this building still believes we can make the playoffs, despite what people say. I think we’re committed to that.

“I think the moves we make in the summer, if we were to make [them], as well as getting guys back healthy, is because we can make a run and we believe we are. So we’re not packing it in, by any means. I think we owe it to the fans, also, to fight to the very last day. And then, look, at the end of 34 regular-season games, we’ll see where we stand.”

Bezbatchenko said he speaks daily with other GMs about potentially acquiring or trading players, but admitted the needs of the team are clouded by its current injury list. Toronto has struggled badly in defense in recent weeks, but the smooth returns of first-choice centerbacks, Drew Moor and Chris Mavinga, over the next couple of weeks could solve that problem.

Designated player Jozy Altidore and star playmaker Victor Vázquez are also thought to be close to making a comeback.

“I do want to see what we have once the guys — guys should be coming back as early as next week,” he added. “Some of them, actually, this week for Chicago [on Saturday]. You saw Jozy get on the bench last game. I want to see what we have and what the form is of those players, and then we can make a decision.

“Now, I think that there are some positions or some players that are now available to us that would help us, give us a different look on the offensive side of things. But right now, it’s not the goals that we need, it’s on the defensive side. And I think most of that is going to come from the guys getting healthy.”

Following the departure of winter signing Ager Aketxe, who struggled to settle in Toronto, Bezbatchenko said he learned that maintaining squad harmony was just as important as injecting more talent.

“New players aren’t always the solution, and I think that’s something that I’ve learned about myself. The dynamics and the way that the team is structured is as important to success as the new players and maybe the talent level,” he explained. “It’s this balance between spirit and dynamics of the team and their talent and ability to do things on the field that maybe other players can’t.”

One move the GM insisted he never considered was to fire MLS Cup-winning coach Greg Vanney.

“I’m nervous for my job even when I’m winning,” Vanney said. “That doesn’t change anything for me. It’s a process, and a day will come, some day, where I won’t be working for TFC. I understand that, and I understand that comes with it. But for me, I don’t spend too much time focusing on that because it doesn’t give us any answers. To me, it’s a process and it’s about answers.

“If something along the way comes and I’m not at Toronto FC, I want to know that I gave everything I could to the cause and to the fans here and to the city and to the club and our ownership group. And if it’s not my day the next day, then that’s the way it goes. But I will look back and not say I didn’t give everything I could to this moment, to this club.”

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