TORONTO – For Victor Vazquez, the 2017 MLS Cup victory was particularly sweet.
Having endured a difficult spell in Mexico with Cruz Azul, the 30-year-old Catalan wizard joined Toronto FC in the offseason as a potential difference-maker. He proved to be that, helping Toronto overcome the final hurdle that stood between them and the title.
Vazquez was involved in both goals in the 2-0 win on Saturday at BMO Field over the Seattle Sounders. He played the outlet pass to Sebastian Giovinco that led to Jozy Altidore's game-winner in the 67th minute, and then scored the second deep in stoppage-time to send the home crowd into raptures.
“Amazing, huge,” smiled Vazquez on Tuesday. “It's unbelievable what we did. As an individual I made a lot of good things, but I try always to think in the collective way, the team way. We are the best team in MLS history, that's for sure.”
Vazquez is no stranger to trophies, having come up at the famed FC Barcelona academy, La Masia. He won the Belgian Cup and was named Footballer of the Year in 2014-15 with Club Brugge, and was part of Barcelona's 2008-2009 treble-winning season (La Liga, Copa del Rey, and UEFA Champions League). The latter was Pep Guardiola's first season at the helm of the world powerhouse, and the first treble in Spanish football history.
“(Toronto) did the treble, we have to enjoy, to be happy, because that happens maybe one time in life,” said Vazquez. “I also lived that with Barcelona. When I was there we won the treble. It's different. I didn't play that much there. Here, I feel more part of the team, and now (it's time to) just enjoy the holidays, come back stronger.”
The two-time treble winner saw those days come full circle post-match.
Legendary Spain and Real Madrid CF keeper Iker Casillas tweeted his congratulations to TFC, something Vazquez said was a “surprise” after not having talked to Casillas or any of his similarly illustrious friends.
There were, however, some conversations.
“I talked to some coaches; to Guardiola, I spoke with him,” said Vazquez. “Two assistants were [watching] the game. I talked to them by iMessage. They said, 'Congratulations, you did amazing. We are so happy for you and proud because you deserve it.' Pep said, 'Congratulations, you showed what you are.'”
Those messages from the past were particularly potent for Vazquez. So too was the one he sent with his goal celebration: removing his shirt and displaying his name on the back for all to see, for which he duly received the only booking of the match.
“It was a joke from home, with my friends and my wife,” said Vazquez. “If I scored, I have to show my name… to those people who didn't believe in me. Everything came out. I want to show that I'm here again “
“They tried to kill me many times there because I had a bad period,” added Vazquez of the Mexican press. “I got injured, couldn't play. When you are not playing, things are not going well, they try to kill you; in Mexico even more.”
“They were saying, 'I'm not a good player,' and all these things. But now, I showed here in Canada, in MLS, that I'm the same player: I can do what I did in Spain, in Brugge Even in Mexico I showed some things, but here it was [the] best season in my career.”
After a brief respite, Vazquez and his TFC teammates will have a chance to send further messages to the doubters in Mexico, as they will learn their opponent for the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 at Monday's draw. Though they cannot be paired with Mexican opposition for those February matches, TFC have ambitious plans and could face someone from Liga MX in a later round of the competition.
“I'm really excited,” said Vazquez. “I want to show that I am the same player I was from the start of my career.”
“I have to show that I am Victor Vazquez. … I was never that.”