Toronto FC attacking midfielder Victor Vazquez comes as advertised.
“He makes guys around him better,” Toronto captain Michael Bradley said approvingly after Saturday’s 2-0 win in Vancouver.
The 30-year-old Spaniard wasted little time making his presence felt after coming off the bench in the 64th minute against the Whitecaps. He opened the scoring 12 minutes later, drifting into the space between the defence to head home a ball nodded on by Jozy Altidore.
Four minutes later, Vazquez played provider from the flank by finding Jonathan Osorio with a beautifully weighted pass between defenders. Osorio spotted a crease in the defence, sending the ball to Altidore who pivoted to make space for his shot and slammed the ball home.
Two lovely strikes, with Vazquez helping chart the way to goal.
“He has an eye for finishing off plays whether it’s getting goals himself or final passes for assists,” said Bradley.
Listed at five foot nine and 167 pounds, Vazquez is elegant to watch.
The former player of the year in Belgium has a fine football brain and the technical ability to act on it. He sees an opening and can deliver the ball there.
“He understands decision-making in the game,” said coach Greg Vanney.
“He thinks fast … We need a player like him,” added striker Sebastian Giovinco.
It helps that Vazquez is happy in Toronto. After five successful years with Club Brugge, he had an unhappy 2016 with Mexico’s Cruz Azul. The fit wasn’t right and his family chafed in Mexico City.
Toronto is a different story. The Spaniard is all smiles as he recounts how his wife is exploring the city and their young son is happily ensconced in his new school.
“They are really happy. It’s a big change from Mexico,” he said.
Little things can make a big difference. Vazquez points to his new neighbours and how helpful they have been.
Toronto team staff have also worked hard to welcome his family and to ease the transition. It’s something the club prides itself on doing well, with assistance on everything from finding housing to schools.
For Vanney, the logistical help means taking a load off the player.
“It’s vital. If players are comfortable, happy. Things are sorted out at home in their life, then they don’t need to bring those issues into the training ground or into their daily work,” said Vanney.
It helps that Vazquez, whose English is excellent, is social and easy-going. That and his ability have helped him fit into what is a tight-knit group of Toronto players.
These days the Spaniard is looking to make connections on the field, to understand the tendencies and likes of players like Altidore and Giovinco.
He is also getting used to Major League Soccer, which features a more physical brand of soccer than in Mexico.
He watches MLS games and consults friends like Los Angeles Galaxy forward Giovani Dos Santos and Sporting Kansas City midfielder Ilie Sanchez, who like Vazquez came up through the Barcelona system.
Vazquez, who had not played a competitive game for almost four months prior to joining Toronto, estimates he’s at about 60 to 70 per cent playing fitness
Bradley says there is more to come from Vazquez once he finds his full fitness.
“He’s only scratching the surface with our group,” he said.
NOTES: With a bye this weekend, Toronto has loaned first-teamers Oyvind Alseth, Brandon Aubrey, Jay Chapman, Marky Delgado, Tsubasa Endoh, Raheem Edwards and Ben Spencer to Toronto FC 2 to give them some playing time in its USL season opener Saturday in Arizona against Phoenix Rising FC … Restored to health after a charley horse, striker Sebastian Giovinco is eager for the March 31 home opener against Sporting Kansas City. “Finally,” he said of playing at BMO Field.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press