Toronto FC’s Vazquez still bleeds Barca blue and red

Barcelona

Juventus's Paulo Dybala, left, and Barcelona's Andre Gomes vie for the ball. (Antonio Calanni/AP)

TORONTO – Victor Vazquez hasn’t given up hope on FC Barcelona, and he’s confident that his former club can pull off another miracle in the UEFA Champions League.

One of Toronto FC’s major off-season additions, the Spanish playmaker has already adapted well to life in Major League Soccer, scoring a goal and adding two assists in five appearances (three as a starter) thus far for the Reds.

Vazquez came up through the ranks of FC Barcelona’s famous La Masia youth academy, where as a teenager he played alongside Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas, amongst many other future Barca greats. Vazquez, a native of Barcelona, eventually graduated to the senior team but only made a handful of appearances before moving on to Belgium where he enjoyed great success with Club Brugge. A stint with Mexican outfit Cruz Azul was cut short after a year, and now he finds himself in Toronto.

But once a member of the Blaugrana, always a member of Blaugrana. And despite Barcelona’s 3-0 loss to Juventus in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday, Vazquez believes the Spanish club can overturn the deficit during next week’s return match at the Camp Nou, much like they did in spectacular fashion against French champions Paris Saint-Germain in the previous round of the continental competition.

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“I didn’t watch all of the game, only the second half, because I was busy training. It was a bad game from Barca. They didn’t read the game, and Juve played perfectly because they anticipated how Barca would play,” Vazquez told Sportsnet.

“It’s 3-0. In one week in Barcelona, I think they can do it. If they can score in the first 10 minutes, then Juventus will think, ‘They can do it again’ like they did against PSG.”

That would take some doing. After losing 4-0 to PSG in France in the opener, Barcelona pulled off the miracle comeback in the second leg courtesy of an incredible 6-1 victory in which they scored three late goals (including two in injury time) to win 6-5 on aggregate.

Juventus, though, is not PSG, warned Vazquez. The Turin-based side has yet to lose a game in this year’s competition, and have only conceded twice in nine matches.

“It’s not easy for them for to play against Juventus because they are a tough team, one of the best in Europe. … But I think they can do it again. They can come back next week,” Vazquez said.

According to Vazquez, the absence of defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets through injury was the difference for Barca in Turin. Without having to contest with the Spanish enforcer, Juventus’ Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira controlled the midfield, and they were routinely allowed to swarm Messi and his cohorts whenever they drifted in from the flanks towards the middle.

“It was difficult because without Busquets they were missing something. It’s like [Barcelona manager Luis] Enrique always says, that he gives the team balance between the attack and defence,” Vazquez offered.

Javier Masherano took Busquets’ place in the starting lineup, and even though the Argentine has played as a defensive midfielder for his country, he was far from his best on this night against the Italian league champions.

“Mascherano didn’t do his best on the game. I was surprised. Normally, he’s played there for the national team, so it’s not a new position for him. I don’t think he was lost, but Juve did a good job in midfield with Pjanic and Khedira – they moved good – and you have the other two [Barca] midfielders that are not always working hard for the team defensively. [Andres] Iniesta is more an attacking player and [Ivan] Rakitic, okay he is working more than Iniesta, but he still thinks to attack first,” Vazquez said.

NOTES: TFC assistant coach Robin Fraser ran Thursday’s practice, as head coach Greg Vanney was away due to personal reasons. Fraser said that Vanney will be back with the club to take charge of Saturday’s road game against the Columbus Crew… A former assistant coach with Real Salt Lake from 2007-10, Fraser confirmed to Sportsnet that he was not considered by RSL to fill their recent coaching vacancy – the Utah club hired Mike Petke instead. Fraser said he was surprised and a little disappointed that RSL didn’t at least contact him. “But I’m very happy in Toronto, and if they did make an offer, it would have taken something very special for me to leave this place,” Fraser admitted.

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