VANCOUVER, B.C. – Toronto FC are no strangers to starting a season on the road, but were faced with an added wrinkle when they finished a three-game away swing at Canadian rivals Vancouver: the absence of star man Sebastian Giovinco.
But despite the absence of the 2015 MLS MVP due to a leg contusion, Toronto were able to pick up their first win of the season, a 2-0 result, in large part thanks to some new faces.
Brek Shea's 70th minute sending off for the home side, with the game scoreless, may have been one of the turning points, but Toronto's substitutions just before and after that incident proved to be inspired.
Recent signing Victor Vazquez scored his first MLS goal to put TFC up in the 76th minute. Academy product Raheem Edwards, who recently inked a full first-team deal, grabbed an assist on that goal and playing a part in Jozy Altidore's second four minutes later.
"[When] you're on the road, make it difficult for the opposition," said Toronto head coach Greg Vanney of his approach to the game. "Protect your goal and take you chances when they come. The circumstances changed on the red card. It gave us the opportunity.
"I brought Victor on and bringing him on gave us an opportunity to change the image of the game. We got a little bit more attacking and were able to create some chances down the stretch."
Vazquez, a Barcelona academy product who enjoyed his best years playing in Belgium, came on in the 64th minute and immediately added a spark to the Toronto attack. Vanney was delighted by the immediate impact from a player that's been on his radar for a long time.
"We had scouted Victor two years ago when he was at [Club] Brugge," Vanney said. "We were looking at maybe making him a Designated Player at that time and we stayed with him. He's a very clever player. He finds wonderful gaps around the field. He's technically super-proficient, moves the ball fast. His ideas come quick.
"He doesn't stand on the ball very long. He gets it and sees passes that a lot of guys don't see and he can get the ball there quickly. It's something that we needed in our midfield. To have someone that can unlock a defense with a one touch pass or a quick look is just a new dimension to our group and I thought that he came on and added that as he came into the game and was ultimately the difference for us."
That's a view echoed by Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley, who feels that once the Spanish midfielder fully finds his feet in the league, he's going to be a big impact player for the Canadians.
"He's a very good soccer player, he's smart, and he makes guys around him better," said Bradley of Vazquez. "In terms of having a guy in the midfield who can find space and who is easy to play with, that part is excellent.
"He has an eye for finishing off plays, whether it's getting goals himself of final passes for assists. As he gets fitter and sharper, he's only scratching the surface with our group."
Also pleasing for a Giovinco-less Toronto side was coming to a rival's home and showing that they can get the job done without their influential playmaker, who was missing through injury.
"Our team have evolved over the last couple of years," Vanney said. "A lot of people two years ago talked about our team being a one man team in a lot of different ways, because Sebastian is, in my opinion, the best player in the league. Especially on his best days where he can do things no-one else can do.
"When Sebastian's not around that the team can still function well as a team. It's never great to not have him, but we're a capable team without him."