TORONTO – As goes Victor Vazquez, so goes Toronto FC.
The midfielder returned to the starting lineup on Saturday in TFC's 3-0 win over the Chicago Fire at BMO Field and played a pivotal role in the first two goals, deftly back-heeling to Sebastian Giovinco on the first before getting into the box to cause havoc and then placing a perfect ball into the path of Giovinco who squared to Jonathan Osorio for the second.
“He's a key to our team,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “Michael [Bradley] is very involved in the setup and some of the initiation of our attack and Victor, in relationship with Marky [Delgado] and Osorio, links the next action: gets the ball from the back group and connects it to the front group.”
“[Victor's] ability to understand and manipulate space and marking; get into these areas I call 'areas of uncertainty,' where guys aren't sure how to deal with him and to find a little bit of extra space to play and look forward, and to bring other guys into the game: He's special,” continued Vanney. “What goes on between his ears is different than what happens [with] most guys.”
Not just on the attacking side of the ball.
“Defensively also, he is incredibly aware,” added Vanney. “He's not a defender per se, but he's very aware of what is most dangerous and helping us to take that away and make things clearer for the guys behind him to help us win balls.”
“An intelligent player, off the charts,” summed up Vanney. “We all see the technical ability he has, but the way he understands the game and manipulates the game off the ball is second to none.”
Having seen 10 minutes off the bench in Chicago the week before, Vazquez made his first start since the end of June on Saturday: just his 11th start of the season.
“I'm feeling great, back to normal almost,” said Vazquez on Tuesday. “I still feel some pain in my knee, but nothing to be worried about.”
“I'm happy because I played 82 minutes – I didn't expect that in my first game; we won 3-0, I gave good balls to the strikers like I always try to do, I worked hard for the team and now we are back,” continued Vazquez. “We have [almost] all the players back, only Drew [Moor] that is still outside, but he's going to be back really soon. We are happy and everyone can see that the game and our style is coming back.”
As Vanney said, Vazquez's understanding of the game is at another level: it makes every players around him better, the ultimate compliment to any player.
“It's easy [to play with him]; so easy,” said Osorio. “Victor makes you look better, it's nice to have him on the field.”
“His brain ticks a little faster than the normal brain, especially on the pitch,” added Osorio. “It's amazing to watch. The team plays better when he's on the field. Even in small-sided games, everybody wants him on their team.”
Quietly, Vazquez has been having a monster season: in thirteen appearances, he has five goals and seven assists – a goal every 174 minutes and an assist every 124 minutes. Last season, impressive though it was, he racked up eight goals and sixteen assists in 31 appearances – every 298 minutes and 149 minutes, respectively.
And as the cheeky ball to Giovinco in the first goal showed, it is not just the quantity, but the quality that marks him as a special player.
“That's Victor,” laughed Vanney when asked about that touch.
When Vazquez is flowing, so are Toronto.
“In the second half we were as dominant in our performance as we have been,” said Vanney. “Our rhythm was good, everybody was playing pretty simple, pretty quick, looking for the right spaces, finding guys in good spots, building speed and momentum into our final actions and because of that we were getting chances, lots of chances.”
“We started to look more reminiscent of the team that we have been when we are really good,” observed Vanney. “Victor is an important part of that.”
A vital cog in a well-oiled machine.
“Seba is an important part of that. Jozy [Altidore] being on the field in an important part of that and Osorio in great form is a big part of that,” listed Vanney of the team effort involved in Saturday's result. “Marky coming on in the second half and the speed at which he gets the ball off of his foot; the combination of Gregory [van der Wiel] and Marky was nice, to be able to play off that sideline and create some things.”
With a pair of high-profile clashes against Atlanta United FC and NYCFC on the horizon, as well as the two legs of the Canadian Championship final against Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Vazquez's return and the raising of the level from the whole team could not have come at a better time.
Up first: a trip to Eastern Conference leaders Atlanta United on Saturday.
“Victor's pass was special,” said Vanney. “He does that a couple times a game in different ways. It was good: for the confidence of the group and this momentum in this stretch. We'll see if we can continue it this weekend.”