TORONTO – Moments before Greg Vanney stepped in front of the camera at his final interview of the first media day of preseason, a bombshell dropped.
With the start of the 2019 Concacaf Champions League a little more than a month away, it was announced that midfielder Victor Vazquez, playmaker, lock-picker, and the missing link that helped Toronto FC win 2017 MLS Cup, was set to depart.
Details were limited, but the club said it had agreed terms to send the Barcelona-trained maestro to an unnamed club in Qatar, pending the results of a physical.
“We're going to miss him,” said Vanney. “Victor has been a loyal servant to the club, a fantastic player and an even better person. This opportunity came up for him and his family. We understood, came to an agreement.”
“It'll be difficult,” continued Vanney. “I don't think we'll find a way to replace Victor exactly, but we'll find a player or players that will add to the team in this transition.”
In two seasons with Toronto, Vazquez proved himself an asset both on and off the field. In 52 MLS regular season matches, he recorded 16 goals and 25 assists. In five playoff matches, he added two goals, including the late clincher in 2017 MLS Cup, and another helper.
But injuries, which have plagued his career, bookended the soon-to-be 32-year-old's sophomore MLS campaign. They cost him a starring role in his return to the Mexican footballing stage in the Champions League and forced a premature conclusion as well.
“Last year, with everything going on, there was a point where he was processing things; thinking about his future,” explained Vanney. “He has some time still to play, but doesn't know what's next beyond that. And like all players, trying to earn a living while their best days are here. You have to respect that.”
“It's a natural progression: players move on, find new opportunities, new challenges, whatever their reasons. It's a part of the game,” added Vanney. “It's evolution. No team ever stays the same forever.”
Losing a key piece at this point is never in the plans, but having had some time to consider alternate plans, and with the scouting department constantly monitoring potential targets in every position, Vanney doesn't see massive disruption: “It doesn't change too much. We'll still approach the season in the same way.”
“We have targets that we are always proactive with,” added Vanney. “It's something we've been thinking about. If any of our guys feels it is time to move on, we have to be ready and nimble to make adjustments.”
Still, Vazquez, both the player and the man, had unique qualities that will be difficult to replace.
“He adds something different in terms of vision, final pass – we'll miss Victor, but we'll continue on,” said Vanney. “Last year we played a lot of big games and Victor wasn't available; we had to find our way to get results. Our team still has the same identity.”