TORONTO – A quiet offseason dwindling down, Toronto FC were content to begin the 2017 season with what they had. But when fate smiles, it is best to not overlook the opportunity.
A graduate of Barcelona's famed La Masia youth academy, Vazquez excelled in Belgium with Club Brugge after 14 years with the Spanish giants. He was voted the Belgian Professional Footballer of the Year for the 2014-15 season before an ill-fated move to Mexican side Cruz Azul in December 2015.
“So happy to be here,” beamed the gregarious Vazquez from Toronto's Kia Training Ground on Tuesday. “I'm excited to start the competition.”
It was a transfer process that began long ago.
“We looked at Victor mid-2014,” recalled Tim Bezbatchenko last Friday. “We were looking for a Designated Player, ended up signing a decent [one] named Sebastian Giovinco … in the end that worked out.”
Two-plus years later, the chance came to see that initial interest to fruition.
“It's part of the process of [our] scouting,” Bezbatchenko said. “That the information that we gather isn't lost. We stay with that player, follow his career. [Vazquez] was able to negotiate a release and we were able to get him.”
Vazquez fit a need: a lock-picking, creative attacker.
“Clubs started to sit back on us,” Bezbatchenko said. “We have to have a player that can break down a defense. The player is Vazquez.”
Then there was an element of good fortune. Bezbatchenko indicated TFC had been chasing Vazquez, but were forestalled by a looming transfer fee and salary hit. Yet due to a down year at Cruz Azul, the opportunity arose, a chance to bring in the right type of person to join a close-knit group.
“Desire to be in Toronto, that's first and foremost.” Bezbatchenko said. “To commit to the city, the organization, the vision of our club, where we want to be.
“He's extremely competitive. He wants to win, to prove after what happened in Mexico that he still has it and can be a top midfielder in the league.”
The brief spell in Mexico raised some questions about the 30-year old, who made limited appearances in his year with Cruz Azul.
“[After Belgium] we wanted a new challenge; to move, change our lives, see another type of football, of culture. But we were wrong to go to Mexico,” Vazquez said. “Not because, a lot of people say the safety, but because of the life. The club was getting nervous. 19 years without winning anything... it's a lot of stress in the club. I wanted to go, but after six months I started to think [of] my family, my kid, it wasn't so easy. It was a hard experience.”
But he can always bank on pedigree, that of the Barcelona youth system, where he played alongside talents like Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique. Vazquez will always be thankful to the club that gave him his start.
“They [taught] me everything,” Vazquez said. “As a football player, a person, a father.... All that I know is because of Barcelona.”
And now the Vazquez family, having spoken with former Barcelona colleagues Giovani dos Santos of the LA Galaxy and Ilie Sanchez (Sporting KC) about MLS and life in North America, are prepared for another foreign land.
“[They told] me that here it's different,” Vazquez said. “It's another kind of life; a more quiet life.”