MLS Counterattack: Classy Vazquez a true find for TFC

Toronto FC's Victor Vazquez, back right, celebrates his goal against Vancouver on Saturday. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

Welcome to Counterattack, Sportsnet’s Monday column that recaps the weekend and previews the week ahead in Major League Soccer for the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps.

After the three Canadian teams went winless through the first two weeks of the season, Toronto finally broke out and earned a valuable road victory away to Vancouver, who continue to struggle early on. Montreal, meanwhile, is still looking for its first win, although the Impact did show some character in coming from behind to earn a draw at Yankee Stadium.

What happened?

Montreal 1, New York City 1
Toronto 2, Vancouver 0

What did we learn this weekend?

Víctor Vázquez appears to be difference maker for TFC
The Spanish midfielder continues to shine, and he looks to be exactly the type of creator that the Reds needed. His introduction in the 64th minute breathed a bit of life into a TFC attack that couldn’t break down Vancouver’s defence. Twelve minutes after coming on, the Spaniard netted the winner with a header from in close. Then he had a hand in setting up TFC’s second goal, playing a sublime ball from the flank into the middle for Jonathan Osorio, who then fed Jozy Altidore. Vázquez’s class is evident, and you can only imagine how influential he’ll be once he’s 100 percent fit and regularly starting games.

Dominic Oduro offers more than just speed
The Montreal Impact forward is renowned for his pace, and he is considered one of the fastest players in MLS. But he also has a fair bit of skill, as evidenced by his equalizer against NYCFC on Saturday. With the Impact down 1-0, Patrice Bernier played a lovely diagonal ball over the defence for Oduro. The Ghanaian didn’t have much space to control it, so he chested it down, the ball bounced and he hit a wicked shot with the side of his foot that beat goalkeeper Sean Johnson. It was a clinical strike, something that Oduro isn’t usually for, but on Saturday, he showed he is capable of producing moments of great technical skill.

Brek Shea isn’t very bright
With Saturday’s game at BC Place still very much hanging in the balance, Vancouver midfielder Brek Shea was called for a clear foul on Toronto’s Nick Hagglund in the 70th minute. Referee Ismail Elfath produced a yellow card, and Shea appeared to respond by telling the official to “F off.” When Elfath looked at Shea in disbelief, the Whitecaps attacker confirmed what he said, and the referee produced another yellow card. Shea was sent off and the momentum turned in favour of TFC, who capitalized by scoring a pair of goals within 10 minutes of his expulsion. How’d that work out for you, Brek?

Upcoming schedule

Major League Soccer is off this week due to the international break.

Burning questions

Who starts in goal for Toronto?
It was a smart move by TFC coach Greg Vanney to give Clint Irwin the day off and start backup Alex Bono on Saturday. Vanney previously stressed the importance of managing his starters’ minutes over the course of the year, so it made sense to work Bono into the starting 11 in order to give him some reps this early in the campaign. But now what? Does he stick with Bono, who had a solid outing against the Whitecaps, for the home opener on March 31 against Sporting Kansas City? Or does he go back to Irwin? Both are quality goalkeepers. Both are capable starters. Goalkeeping controversy? No. It’s just nice to have options.

Can Montreal’s Mancosu change it up?
Matteo Mancosu has been a gem of a player for the Impact ever since he came to MLS last season. The Italian forward has been one of Montreal’s most dangerous scorers, and he has formed an effective relationship with midfield playmaker Ignacio Piatti. But Mancosu can be one-dimensional at times, constantly playing off the shoulder of the last defender and looking for a ball to run onto in open space. He doesn’t offer a great deal in the buildup of play. He needs to drop back into midfield more often and get directly involved in the creation of attacks, instead of always waiting for service.

Is Vancouver in trouble?
Two losses and a draw, two red cards (Brek Shea and David Ousted), five goals against, and two goals scored. The Whitecaps’ first three games makes for dire reading, and their upcoming slate of games is quite challenging: home to LA, home to Tigres (in CONCACAF Champions League), away to Salt Lake, home to Seattle, away to Portland and away to Montreal. That’s a very tough April schedule. We’re only three games into the season, so there’s no reason to panic as there’s plenty of time to turn things around. Still, something has to give, as noted by Kendall Waston, who said after Saturday’s loss: “Everything at this moment is against us. We have to see what we can do to change it up.”

Sportsnet's Soccer Central podcast (featuring James Sharman, Thomas Dobby, Brendan Dunlop, and John Molinaro) takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport's biggest issues.

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