Vazquez departs TFC as one of MLS' great unheralded talents
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The announcement of Victor Vazquez's impending move to Qatar was met with mixed reaction among Toronto FC circles Tuesday.

For some, it was time for the aging, injury-prone midfielder to move on, and for TFC to free up much-needed cap space by offloading his significant salary. For others, it's another sad indicator of the club's decline over the last year.

No matter which view you subscribe to - even if it's both, as they are far from mutually exclusive - what is for certain is that the Canadian franchise has lost one of the greatest talents in league history.

Vazquez's legacy deserves to be even greater, though. When the Spaniard arrived at BMO Field in February 2017, there was understandable excitement. Here was a La Masia product, a talented graduate of one of soccer's greatest and most iconic clubs, rocking up in Ontario to add the final piece of the Reds' puzzle.

Well, what a difference that final piece made. No matter that Vazquez only played three times for Barcelona's first team, that he had spent the previous six years in first Belgium and then Mexico instead of starring in Catalonia. In Major League Soccer, the Catalonian was a class above the rest.

Toronto FC in 2016 had a promising side and the Designated Player triumvirate of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley, but missed the kind of gifted playmaker who would bridge the gap and halt the practice of Giovinco needing to drop deep into midfield to create his own chances. They yearned for a through-ball merchant, an artist, someone who could not only think on Giovinco's wavelength but connect with him and match his quality on a weekly basis.

Vazquez gave them all of that and more. He laid on 11 assists during his debut campaign, establishing himself as the side's chief supplier. Not particularly renowned as a goal threat, he also netted 10 times in all competitions, thanks largely to his ability to take both free kicks and penalties whenever Giovinco wasn't around - and, sometimes, even when he was. His tap-in sealed the 2-0 MLS Cup victory over the Seattle Sounders, a treble, and TFC's place in league folklore.

"He has an ability to play at a high speed and with ideas that are faster than anyone else," Greg Vanney told Sportsnet's Kristina Rutherford in 2017, and that's as succinct an explanation of the difference Vazquez made.

It was all there - almost uncanny spacial awareness, no-look passes, a first touch so exceptional it shone like a beacon, the odd under-the-wall free kick. The truth is that, in 2017, the man dubbed El Mago (the Magician) was a step beyond even the more prolific and explosive Giovinco in a red shirt.

Vazquez was both the puppeteer and the liberator of the 2017 MLS Cup-winning side. Not only did he become a chief creative fulcrum for Vanney's men, but his installation in midfield also allowed Bradley to relinquish some of his playmaking responsibilities and operate purely as the midfield engine. Bradley could often be found starting moves from almost alongside center-back Drew Moor in the defensive line during the 2017 season, something which was enabled by Vazquez's brilliance.

Training alongside Vazquez for the best part of two years has also undoubtedly had a positive effect on his teammates. Jonathan Osorio blossomed last season into a genuine talent and bore more than a shade of Vazquez's style in his play, while other squad players such as Jay Chapman and Marky Delgado also improved. Not all of this is Vazquez's doing, of course, and he wouldn't take credit for it, but his influence is omnipotent.

Perhaps his displays and impact on the league were not reflected in acclaim. Despite being the club's impetus on its way to a maiden MLS Cup triumph and one of the most productive midfielders in the league, Vazquez missed out on the Newcomer of the Year award to Atlanta United's Miguel Almiron. In itself, that's nothing to be ashamed about, but Vazquez wasn't even nominated- albeit in an unusually strong field that year - having to settle for a Team of the Year berth.

A less majestic 2018 dampened some of the enthusiasm around Vazquez and, at his age, has likely lowered his ceiling in terms of form and fitness. Perhaps his exit now is sensible in the long term, particularly considering the hefty chunk of cap space that ditching his reported $1.3-million salary will free up.

Where TFC go in their bid to replace the man who was near-irreplaceable remains to be seen. For now, though, Vazquez deserves the legacy he earned - that of one of Major League Soccer's greatest-ever players, and perhaps Toronto FC's biggest-ever difference-maker.

Vazquez departs TFC as one of MLS' great unheralded talents
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