No Jermain Defoe. Two key defenders out with injury. And Dwayne De Rosario and two young squad players away with the Canadian national team.

The Greg Vanney era as manager of Toronto FC is starting with more than a few challenges.

Vanney, the MLS club's former assistant general manager and still academy director, braved grey skies and rain Tuesday in his second practice since Ryan Nelsen and five assistant coaches were fired Sunday in a bid to stop the slide of a big-ticket team that has gone 3-5-5 in its last 13 games.

At 9-9-6 with 10 games to go, Toronto currently stands fourth in the Eastern Conference with 33 points, in the thick of the playoff picture but also just five points above the ninth-place team. The top five in the conference make the playoffs.

Vanney, a former assistant coach at Chivas USA, jumps into the deep end Wednesday night as Toronto visits seventh-place Philadelphia, which at 7-9-9 is just three points behind. The two teams meet again Saturday in Toronto.

Vanney exuded calm, however, as he met the media after practice. The same feeling was translated to his players.

"In a crazy two or three days, Greg has come in and handled it tremendously," said star midfielder Michael Bradley. "He has a strong but calm way of leading."

Vanney, a 40-year-old American, played professionally for 13 years, winning three MLS Cups, the U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions Cup with the Los Angeles Galaxy. He won 36 caps for the U.S. national side.

Like Nelsen in weeks gone by, Vanney does not have a full hand to play with as the team takes on Philadelphia.

Defoe is back home in England dealing with a groin injury while pundits debate whether he really wants to continue in Major League Soccer. Captain Steven Caldwell (quad) and fellow defender Justin Morrow are still out while midfielder-defender Warren Creavalle (hamstring) is probably a game away.

Defenders Doneil Henry and Ashtone Morgan are back from the national team camp, but De Rosario, young goalie Quillan Roberts and midfielder Kyle Bekker are still preparing for an international friendly next Tuesday against Jamaica.

The depleted roster will mean changes, although Vanney was understandably cagey about the kind of formation he will use.

Anything will be better than the lackadaisical display Saturday in a 3-0 loss to the visiting New England Revolution.

Playing to Bradley's strengths

Bradley will be getting a new role, dispatched further up the field. Under Nelsen, Bradley's role seemed all-encompassing with the American international often taking the ball from the centre back to trigger an attack with his pinpoint passing.

"I think Michael's strengths are to play forward and to feel the freedom to move forward and drive the team," said Vanney. "He's a great final passer, he's great at arriving into the (penalty) box late and driving into attacks late. He's outstanding at closing people down.

Jason Bent, the lone holdover among Nelsen's assistant coaches, was joined at practice by academy head goalie coach Jon Conway, under-14 coach Nick Theslof and Jim Liston, the academy's director of sports science.

There was one immediate change under the new regime. Reporters were allowed to watch practice from the edge of the field. Under Nelsen, the Hubble telescope was needed to see what was going on with drills held far away.

Asked what his message to fans was, Bradley replied: "Keep the faith.