TORONTO – It’s a long way from the cold streets of Canada’s largest metropolis to the Mediterranean bustle of Catalonia’s capital city. But two of the key protagonists in Saturday’s MLS Cup final (4 pm ET; ESPN, UniMás in US | TSN, TVAS in Canada) will be carrying the tiki-taka spirit of FC Barcelona deep in their hearts as they face off at BMO Field.
Toronto FC playmaker Victor Vazquez and Seattle Sounders winger Victor Rodriguez share more than just a first name and Spanish citizenship. Though they didn’t play on the same teams due to their two-year age difference, the two Victors are both products of La Masia, Barça’s famed academy, and they have proudly carried the Barça DNA of quick, technical attacking play to MLS.
“I think the importance of players from La Masia is that technically they are always very gifted and that can make the difference a bit in MLS, which is a much more physical league and full of strong and powerful players,” Rodriguez told reporters upon Seattle’s arrival in Toronto late Wednesday evening. “That dose of quality that these type of players bring can raise the overall quality of the league.”
A midsummer TAM arrival from Sporting Gijon, Rodriguez has made only 10 appearances for the Sounders, but has already proved a dangerous complement to Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro and the rest of the Seattle attack with his skill on the ball and sharp movement off it.
“Us players up top have a good feeling and we understand each other well,” he said. “We know Saturday’s game is going to be very difficult and that [TFC] might not try to let us combine as much because they’re going to try to grit it out. But we will attempt to play our game, to do things well, and hopefully it will work out for us.”
Vazquez has provided a similar cohesive function for Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore since joining TFC last winter, playing the maestro role to a T and racking up 16 assists in the regular season, second-most in MLS.
“The DNA that we have, the identity we have, is a different one. We are playmakers,” said Vazquez of his Barça heritage. “We always try to play soccer, to enjoy the ball, to try to move the ball fast, to be thinking all the time of our teammates – to be a helper, and be smart on the pitch. Because here sometimes you miss these kind of players.
“That’s why I think it’s going so well for players like Victor Rodriguez – also Ignacio Piatti, [Federico] Higuain, these kind of players. We are really smart on the pitch and we find these pockets between the lines.”
Though the lion’s share of attention this week has understandably focused on established stars like Dempsey and Giovinco, Rodriguez and Vazquez are well-positioned to exploit any lag in awareness of their qualities on the part of their opponents.
“He’s a player that can dictate the game and is always asking for the ball and looking to combine,” said Rodriguez of Vazquez. “On top of that he has the ability to play a good final ball, like he did in the last game on the pass to Altidore. We have to be careful of him, just as we do with Giovinco and [Michael] Bradley.”
The respect is mutual.
“He’s really fast and he’s a little one, a tricky one, like Seba – sometimes it is difficult to defend,” said Vazquez of Rodriguez. “He’s a tricky player, he’s fast, he has a lot of technique. With these kind of players like Lodeiro and Dempsey, he has good relationship on the pitch – and same as me here, I have Jozy and Seba."
Vazquez rose through the Barcelona system in the illustrious crop that featured Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas. Though his own career took him to Belgium’s Club Brugge and Cruz Azul in Mexico before his arrival in Toronto, he keeps in touch with several of those old academy mates and follows closely as their mentor and former coach Pep Guardiola takes the English Premier League by storm with Manchester City.
“Of course – always, always. He is like my dad in football, you know? In the meaning of football,” said Vazquez of Guardiola. “I am proud because he’s doing really well in a really hard competition and I hope he can win the championship this year.
“It’s a religion. Barcelona, it’s always one way. You have this way and you have to go in this way. If you don’t go in this way, you have to get out. And that’s why they say ‘ideology’ and all these things, because it’s true. You feel it like that, and you are born there. Then you have to learn that. And that’s why we are trying to [take] it around the world.”
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