Before the dust of the MLS Cup final had settled, there was a clear belief around Toronto FC that a new attacking midfielder would be the most significant item on the club’s winter shopping list.
After one or two deals seemed to fall through for different reasons in January, however, the thinking changed: maybe TFC could give the young-and-still-improving Jonathan Osorio and Jay Chapman the chance to impress in the first half of the season and reassess in the summer, when the European window reopened.
As soon as that second scenario began to appear more likely than not, the Reds got their man. Toronto confirmed the signing of playmaker Victor Vazquez completely out of the blue on Monday morning, the Spaniard most recently featuring for Cruz Azul in Liga MX after a productive spell with Club Brugge in Belgium.
While there was little public inkling of what was coming, Toronto did not stumble across Vazquez over the 10 days or so since Greg Vanney insisted that nothing was imminent on the transfer front. That’s not the way the current front office tends to do its business, with Tim Bezbatchenko and, ultimately, Bill Manning rarely signing off on a deal without extensive background work and total agreement between both themselves and Vanney. Vazquez was in contact with TFC during the January window in 2015, in fact, a short time before the club landed Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco, but would have been a designated player had he signed at that time and the talks did not work out.
There may have been some difference between the two parties on salary or another contract detail but as Vazquez had not featured for his previous club, Cruz Azul, since October, neither side was under any great pressure to rush through a deal. They have struck an agreement now and Vazquez is expected to be available to face Real Salt Lake in the season opener on March 4.
Not including depth additions such as the signing of a backup right-back, Vazquez would appear to be the final piece of the puzzle for TFC. Signed with targeted allocation money, he will be the fourth-highest earner on the roster behind the three designated players, and the arrival of a player who turned 30 last month illustrates the club’s intent going into the 2017 season.
Put simply, Toronto have made this signing with a view to the next two seasons and no further. That’s how long we might realistically expect Giovinco to stick around, how long we can count on Drew Moor remaining one of the best centre-backs in MLS and how long this club’s championship window is going to be open without a deeper regeneration of the roster. Justin Morrow, Michael Bradley, Steven Beitashour and Tosaint Ricketts also celebrate their 30th birthdays this year.
Toronto had the flexibility to be able to wait until the summer to make this addition, but were never going to do so for the sake of it if they could find the right man now. Vazquez will benefit from the extra time he has, compared to a June or July signing, to settle into the team and carve out a relationship with his teammates - particularly, of course, Giovinco and Altidore, who he will be providing ammunition for in the final third.
“I want to give everything for the team, for the club, for the fans,” Vazquez said in his first interview. “I’m a player [for the team], I’m not an individual player - I always like to play for the team, for the strikers. I like to give assists [and] I like also to score goals if I can.
“But the most important [thing] is that I will give everything, my spirit is... you know, I was playing for Barcelona and Brugge and I have this spirit. They were pushing us always to give 100 per cent on the pitch because the fans are always behind you, they are helping you, they are doing everything for you and that’s why we are here, because Toronto is a perfect club to come and because, like I said, it’s a family club.”
Much like Chris Mavinga, Vazquez has the pedigree and the quality to be a hit in MLS and his success may rest on how well he settles in off the pitch. After a difficult time in Mexico City, Toronto may offer a more serene, settled environment.
“It’s a really exciting period to come here and finally we are here,” he reflected. “Then we learn about the city, the culture, everything from Toronto and we are really excited and really interested to start to live in Toronto because it’s an amazing city, it’s really [safe], everyone is friendly. I have already seen yesterday in Toronto that the people... it’s really different, I don’t know how to explain it because it’s really different. Nobody knows you and everybody is trying to help you and we are really proud to be here today.”