‘Selfless and humble’ Victor Vazquez thriving with Toronto FC

Victor Vazquez in action for Toronto FC. (Chris Szagola/AP)

TORONTO – Victor Vazquez has many great gifts, including a technical ability that allows him to outshine most other players who share the pitch with him.

But it’s the qualities that you don’t always see that make the Spanish midfielder really special.

Vazquez has settled into life in Major League Soccer rather quickly, scoring three goals and tallying a league-leading eight assists in 13 games this season, his first with Toronto FC.

Ever since joining TFC prior to the start of the campaign, the former FC Barcelona man (he mostly played with the reserve side, but did make a few first-team appearances) has earned plaudits for his stylish and smart play, and for adding a genuine touch of class and creativity to the Reds’ midfield. He’s established himself as a key starter for Toronto, and as one of the league’s top newcomers.

Not all players from abroad adapt to the MLS game so quickly, or at all, for a variety of reasons, including ego. A graduate of Barcelona’s famous La Masia youth academy, and a player who was voted MVP of the Belgian league in 2015 with Club Brugge, Vazquez has been able to make the transition, in large part, because he’s been so selfless and so humble.

“He’s a person who has the intelligence to take in the situation, and assess it and have a selfless, opinion-less view of it, and that has helped him adapt so much faster,” TFC coach Greg Vanney told Sportsnet ahead of Saturday’s road game against the New England Revolution.

“If you come in and say, ‘Well, this should be like it was at Barcelona,’ then it’s going to take you a long time to adapt because it’s not going to be like it was at Barcelona, and you’ll be beating your head against the wall. For him, he came in and didn’t put himself out there to say, ‘This is how we should do it.’ Instead, he took it all in and accepted everything. That’s led to the great speed with which he’s adapted to the league and why he’s been so successful.

“To do all of those things that he does and to execute the way he does, there has to be a selflessness and a humility within that. Those are the best words to describe him: selfless and humble.”

One of the things Vanney has stressed this season is quick ball movement. He wants his players to be efficient with their touches on the ball, and not to linger too long while in possession. This is well within Vazquez’s wheelhouse – the Spaniard is noted for his timely decisions on the field, and for thinking two to three steps ahead.

“The way he plays the game and shares the ball quickly and moves the ball quickly is the product of who he is. That’s helped him integrate, too,” Vanney offered.

“He plays soccer between his ears first and foremost. He understands space, he understands time, he understands the relationship between he and the other players. He’s got a soccer brain and great on-field intelligence.”

The Spaniard provided a glimpse of his intelligence in last week’s 5-0 humbling of the Columbus Crew at BMO Field when he lined up to take a free kick just on the edge of the penalty area. Instead of trying to curl his shot over or around the Crew’s defensive wall, he anticipated the Columbus players would jump, so he hit a drive along the ground that slipped underneath the wall and beat the goalkeeper at the near post.

It was one of the most audacious and cheekiest goals ever scored at BMO Field, but for Vazquez it simply made plain sense to go beneath the wall, rather than over it.

“It’s always my thought. When the free kick is too close to the goal, you have less chance to put it over the wall, in my opinion. Other players might think it’s easy to put it over the wall and to score, but for me, when you are close to the goal, the wall normally jumps,” Vazquez told Sportsnet.

“I did it also one time in Barcelona and I scored. I also did it a couple of times in Belgium, and I scored once. When you are really close, the goalkeeper is expecting you to shoot to his post really hard or chip it over the wall. And this is what I thought, that maybe under the wall is going to be the perfect chance to score, and it worked. I have to be honest, this is my thought always when I am really close to the goal and I have a free kick, I will put it under the wall. It’s on my brain.”

Another key factor behind Vazquez’s early success with TFC is the fact that life off the pitch is going well for him and his family. His wife Andrea and three-year-old Leo – no, he’s not named after former teammate Lionel Messi, his wife just liked the name – have settled into Toronto and are enjoying the city and everything it has to offer.

“When everything is going well in football, everything outside of football also goes well. My family is really happy here. My son is doing amazing; he’s already speaking some English. He is going to school,” said Vazquez, who learned English during his time in Belgium.

“Now that the weather is nice we are going outside more. There is an aquatic park that we go to with my son. … We went many times to the NBA basketball, because we like basketball. We don’t like so much the baseball and hockey, but we are trying to find one day to go and watch because maybe it’s going to be a nice experience for us and for our son. We like the concerts, the theatre, we like everything.

“The most important thing for us is to be happy, and to enjoy the city, and the football. I am in a very good situation with my family here in Toronto.”

The first decade of Toronto FC in the words of the players, coaches, executives and fans who built the franchise.

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