At the time, signing a creative playmaker — someone who could effectively link up with Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, and serve as another valuable source of goals — was one of the club’s top priorities. General manager Tim Bezbatchenko went on scouting trips abroad in previous months, looking for international players who could potentially fill the role.
Many wondered if the answer to TFC’s midfield problem could be found within the organization in the form of Chapman. The 23-year-old native of Brampton, Ont., was coming off a solid 2016 Major League Soccer campaign in which he firmly established himself as one of the most promising prospects in the league. It was a breakout year for Chapman, who made 18 MLS appearances, nine as a starter — this after making only one start in 10 games the year before.
TFC decided to go another way, signing Spanish veteran Victor Vazquez prior to the start of the regular season. It turned out to be a shrewd move. Vazquez, a product of Barcelona’s famous youth academy La Masia, has been one of the best newcomers in MLS this season, scoring one goal and tallying a league-leading six assists.
As a result, Chapman has had to watch from the bench. He made just one substitute appearance through the first nine matches of the campaign, while Vazquez held down a starting role in TFC’s midfield. But the Spaniard didn’t travel to Seattle last weekend, and Chapman earned his first start of the year, putting in a solid performance in a 1-0 win over the Sounders.
Chapman wasn’t overwhelmed by the occasion, not the least bit intimidated by having to fill in for a player the calibre of Vazquez in a rematch of last year’s MLS Cup final.
“Victor is having a great year. He’s a fantastic player. When I’ve been on the training field, I’ve been watching little things that he’s been doing, and also in games, things that I can emulate when I come in. I have confidence in my ability. I think when I come out there I can fill his shoes, I can start to create things when he’s not on the pitch,” Chapman said ahead of Wednesday’s road game against the Columbus Crew.
“I didn’t shy away from the moment. I had a good run of games last year, so I was biting at the bit to get things started this year.”
Coach Greg Vanney was impressed how Chapman took advantage of the open space afforded to him by the Sounders.
“He’s such a good runner with the ball and runner off the ball. He had his head up, and his vision was good; his choices were good,” Vanney said.
“It was great to get him going; he’s been excellent through training. On a team like ours, it’s finding the right moments and as many moments as possible to give Jay his opportunity.”
Chapman wasn’t credited with an assist on Altidore’s winning goal, but he played a major role in the buildup. Altidore picked up the ball on the left flank and burst into the box, playing a quick give-and-go with Chapman. The Canadian’s return pass was perfectly weighted for Altidore, who was hauled down from behind by Sounders defender Roman Torres. Altidore stepped up to the spot and fired a perfect penalty into the corner that goalkeeper Stefan Frei had no chance of stopping.
“Jozy is very vocal. He tells you where he wants the ball and it’s very easy to play off of him. He’s such a big target. He’s so good at holding the ball up; if you get yourself in situations around him, you’re going to get the ball and be able to play it forward. Just to be able to get a game with him and starting working with him on different things is huge,” Chapman offered.
TFC have a short turnaround this week, as they’ll host Minnesota United FC on Saturday afternoon at BMO Field. With only two days between the Columbus and Minnesota games, Vanney will likely rotate his squad, which could mean another opportunity for Chapman to start.
“We’ll make some rotations. I made the statement [after the Seattle win] that we have an incredibly deep team. I would put the depth of our team against any team ever in the history of this league,” Vanney stated.
The reality for Chapman, though, is that opportunities to start will be hard to come by with Vazquez in such fine form. He’ll simply have to continue to bide his time.
“It’s tough when you’re not getting minutes, and that only make you hungrier. As a young guy, I’ve very passionate about my football,” Chapman said.
“Any time you’re on a team like this it’s tough to come by minutes when you’re a young player. We’re such a good team, and we have so many guys like myself who are ready to contribute in any way that they can that when you get your chance you have to take it.”
NOTES: TFC and the Crew met last month in Columbus when the home side earned a 2-1 win, with Jozy Altidore scoring in a losing cause… Toronto and Columbus will meet for the third and final time this season on May 26 at BMO Field… Columbus is coming off of a 2-0 home win over the New England Revolution, a result that ended a modest two-game losing streak. The Crew currently sit third in the Eastern Conference with a 5-4-1 record and 16 points – two spots and three points behind TFC…