TORONTO â€” The early reviews on newly acquired Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez are all positive in Toronto FC’s camp.
“(A) very good football player,” said captain Michael Bradley, who does not hand out praise lightly. “Somebody who makes guys around him better, somebody who’s easy to play with. He reads the game, he’s very good at finding space.”
The 30-year-old Vazquez joined the MLS side on Feb. 20, with team officials hoping the former footballer of the year in Belgium will add creativity to the midfield behind an already potent attack featuring Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.
Vazquez last played a competitive match in the late fall before securing his release from Mexico’s Cruz Azul. While his fitness is improving, Toronto is not likely to push him too soon.
“Victor is very close,” said coach Greg Vanney. “He’s ready to play. Is he ready for 90 minutes at a really high tempo? I would say probably not.”
Toronto opens the season Saturday at Real Salt Lake.
Vazquez said he is probably at about 60-70 per cent fitness, and looking to reach 100 per cent as soon as possible “to be ready to give everything.”
The Spaniard seems to be settling in. His wife and son were at the team’s training ground Tuesday, meeting club officials to learn about housing, schools and the city.
After spending 14 years in the Barcelona system, Vazquez made his mark with Club Brugge in Belgium. After five seasons there, the move to Mexico was to find a new challenge but proved to be an awkward fit â€” especially for his family.
“It was a hard experience,” he said.
Vazquez said he wants a “quiet life” after living with 20-million-plus in and around Mexico City. “And in Canada I know that we will have it,” he said.
It was the kind of lifestyle they had in Belgium, Vazquez added.
Asked about the Spaniard, Bradley offered up what he calls one of the best compliments any player can get.
“He’s easy to play with,” said Bradley. “When he should play one-touch (soccer), he plays one-touch. When he should play two-touch, he plays two-touch. When he has time and the game asks for a little bit more, he’s able to do a little bit more. And I think as he gets fitter and sharper and as we get him even more integrated into our group, he’s going to help us in a big way.”
Vazquez did not come cheap. Toronto used targeted allocation money to bring his salary cap cost below the maximum of some US$500,000.
The Spaniard can score goals and make them. He says his preference is to set up others.
“I’m not thinking individual things. I always try to think as a collective,” he said in English. “Of course, I like to score goals because it’s always a nice compliment but I prefer to give assists because it’s my way of playing. And then I’ll be happy if I give assists to Jozy, to Sebastian, it doesn’t matter who. But I will be more happy than sometimes scoring goals.”
French-born Congolese defender Chris Mavinga will not be part of the squad in Salt Lake after returning to France for the birth of his child.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press