When life gives you lemons, they say, make lemonade.
Losing Victor Vazquez is a lemon. The 2017 MLS Best XI midfielder is on his way to Qatari club Al-Arabi SC, and will be a big loss in the short term for Toronto FC. Vazquez was the final piece of the puzzle for the Reds. His calming presence and ability to hit the final pass took the Reds to the next level in 2017, inspiring one of the greatest seasons in MLS history. They don’t have another player like him.
But it’s a resolution Toronto had to accept. Sometimes a team needs to make decisions that ensure long-term stability at the detriment of immediate wins.
Vazquez turns 32 years old at the end of January. His next contract will probably be his last. He needs to maximize his earnings while he can, and the Qatari league has been known for handing out lucrative contracts.
Toronto don’t want to lose a key player, but they also need to do what’s right for Vazquez. TFC position themselves as a club capable of hosting the league’s biggest stars. Players want to know they are going to a place that cares about them as a person. If a player wants to do what’s best for his family, you need to let him go. Players and agents talk. Keeping Vazquez might have hindered the ability to get players in the future.
There’s some lemonade to be made, though. Vazquez missed 13 MLS games due to back and hamstring issues in 2018. Toronto’s schedule will have at least one added midweek game in 2019. If you’re a TFC fan, what was a reasonable expectation for the number of games Vazquez would play? Can you plan for a season with that question mark around your fourth-highest-paid player?
Losing Vazquez decreases the potential but mitigates the risk. Getting a transfer fee for a 32-year-old coming off an injury-ridden season ain’t all bad.
TFC will almost certainly go into the market to replace Vazquez. It’s a matter of when, and with what type of player.
New GM Ali Curtis has the option to wait until the summer transfer window. More players in the world market become available – and free, as their contracts expire – and Ali gets a chance to evaluate the team’s needs. TFC won’t be in dire straits in the next few months, either. Curtis has time to measure the situation and make sure he finds the right guy.
The biggest question becomes the type of player Toronto target. Do they go like for like, and try to find a creative central player? Or do they attempt to strengthen elsewhere?
Joshua Kloke did a feature on TFC head coach Greg Vanney in December for The Athletic in which he wrote, “Vanney wants TFC to become more dangerous out wide, having identified the team’s inability to draw opposition defenders out to the sideline as one of his focal points of concern.”
The Reds don’t have a starting-caliber attacking wide player on their roster (unless you think Nick DeLeon can regain his peak form). Maybe Vazquez’s departure presents the opportunity to diversify their roster. Lemonade.
I expect Toronto to sign the best attacker they can get with the money. I suspect they’d like it to be a wide player, but if another Victor Vazquez becomes available, they’d take that, too.
It’s not an ideal situation for Toronto heading into 2019. But it could work out for the better by the end.