TFC Notebook: Víctor Vázquez says he wants to retire in Toronto
By Michael Singh
TFC Notebooks are back.
A new notebook will be released every Friday throughout the course of the 2023 Toronto FC season, featuring news and updates from training during the week, exclusive interviews, tidbits and more. It's supported by BET99 Sportsbook so if you're interested in responsible gaming, please check out their special welcome offer.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in.
Lorenzo Insigne Injury Timeline
The biggest news of the week broke on Tuesday when the club informed local reporters that Lorenzo Insigne would be sidelined for the next three-to-four matches after a second scan revealed that the Italian international re-aggravated his groin injury.
Insigne suffered the initial injury in Toronto’s season opener against D.C. United on Feb. 25 and was forced to exit just 34 minutes in. At that time, given the 31-year-old winger’s visibly distraught reaction, there was fear that the injury would be severe and cause him to miss an extended period of time.
But, an initial MRI revealed just a ‘very minor groin strain’ and Insigne was back on the pitch doing individual work just a few days later before rejoining the team in full training last week.
With the team still training, Bob Bradley spoke to media last Friday and he told reporters that he was 'hopeful' and 'optimistic' Insigne would be available to play in the home opener the next day, pending a final check in.
Insigne had responded well in the days leading up to the weekend, and at the time Bradley spoke to reporters, the 31 year old was indeed on track to play in the eventual 1-1 draw with the Columbus Crew.
That’s when the situation took a turn.
When Bradley went to check in on the former Napoli star, Insigne informed the TFC head coach and his medical staff that he was once again feeling discomfort in his groin after reaching for a ball, similar to the play against D.C. United.
At that point, there was still hope for Insigne to play, but on matchday, he was reassessed a few hours before the game and was still not feeling 100 per cent, and that’s when the club elected for a second scan which eventually revealed the setback.
Injuries happen to every club, and it’s an unfortunate situation, however, it does raise the question whether Toronto rushed its star winger back too soon in the hope that he could feature in the home opener – a theory that the former U.S. men’s national team coach refuted on Friday.
“No, he passed all the tests,” Bradley said.
He added: “The initial MRI didn’t show much, and then he’s doing a little bit in training every day. The play that happened in training, it’s a minus-one (the day before a game), so it’s not like a play where we’re really testing anything, he wasn’t running hard. I think it speaks to more than anything that there’s something in there that’s causing him some pain. More than rushing him back, we’ve got to get to the bottom of what exactly [that is] and try to make sure that moving forward it’s not something that keeps repeating itself.”
The team is still trying to get Insigne on the right strengthening program, according to Bradley. That’s slightly concerning.
Insigne will miss at least the next three matches – at home vs. Inter Miami CF, away vs. San Jose, and at home vs. Charlotte FC – as well as potentially an April 8 trip to Nashville. Assuming he misses the next three outings, he will have played in just 13 of 23 matches since joining the club last July.
In the grand scheme of things, losing Insigne for approximately a month, less than a fifth of the season, is a relatively small amount of time. But given Toronto’s slow start to the year and the team’s lack of depth, as well as the expectations that naturally come with being the highest paid player in Major League Soccer history, it feels like a much bigger loss than just one individual.
The way the team is built, Toronto needs Insigne to be even remotely close to competitive. There’s no sugar coating it. Can they still grind out results? Absolutely. And, mathematically, the Reds season won’t be won or lost over this next stretch without Insigne.
However, if results don’t go their way, will Bob Bradley and his staff be able to keep players in check, in the right headspace, and prevent frustration from boiling over while their talisman recovers? That’ll be the burning question over this next stretch.
Victor Vázquez: ‘I want to retire here [in Toronto]’
With all the focus following last week’s home opener on the health and status of Insigne, the disappointing result, and post-game comments made by Federico Bernardeschi, somewhat glossed over was the return of Toronto’s beloved Spaniard Víctor Vázquez.
The veteran midfielder is a fan favourite. He was the missing ingredient that put Toronto over the top during their treble-winning season in 2017, a team that Vázquez, and many others, still refer to as the greatest side in MLS history.
Vázquez relished his time in Toronto that year, which is why he was delighted on Saturday to once again step foot onto BMO Field sporting a TFC kit – 1617 days after his last appearance for the club (Oct. 6, 2018 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps).
“It was happiness,” Vázquez told Room 4-4-2, reflecting back on his season debut. “Happy to be back, happy to feel again the supporters, the feeling from the people from Toronto. We had amazing times here and for me to be again on this pitch, in that environment, was a very special moment for me in my career, even at 36 years old. It’s always something that I’m going to take forever with me because we had so many good memories here with me in the past. … It’s always good to be back where you feel like you are at home.”
It’s a romantic homecoming for Vázquez, who said that he was delighted to see Toronto pick up his rights in the MLS Re-Entry Draft from Greg Vanney’s Los Angeles Galaxy. Had it been any other club in MLS, the former FC Barcelona man says he would have simply returned to Spain and played for a team there.
“I just wanted to be here because it’s Toronto FC,” he said.
At 36 years old, Vázquez isn’t as mobile as he once was, but he can still be an effective player; there’s no player in Toronto’s history that has shown the ability to read and think the game quite like the silky Spaniard. In saying that, he does understand that he’s not going to play forever and says he’s trying to enjoy every day like it’s the last of his career – and what a storied career it has been.
Part of Barcelona's famous class of '87 La Masia side, Vázquez – whose many stops include stints with storied clubs like Barça, Club Brugge, and Cruz Azul – was once held in the same regard as his good friend Lionel Messi. Now, he’s hoping that he one day will get the opportunity to hang up his boots with Toronto FC.
“What I told Bob [Bradley] and what I told Bill [Manning], I would like to retire here,” he said.
Vázquez has no imminent plans to retire and says he will play out the rest of this season and potentially one more. But with only one year remaining on his contract, there’s no guarantee that final year, should he play, will be in Toronto, although it’s something that he’s certainly hoping for.
“I feel happy,” he said. “That’s why I came back to Toronto also because in this city I feel home.”
I had the opportunity to chat more in depth with Vázquez this week, and we had a fascinating conversation regarding his future and current role at the club. I’ll have more from that interview in the coming weeks.
Toronto FC claims Cristían Gutiérrez
The club added some much-needed fullback depth on Tuesday, claiming 26-year-old left-back Cristían Gutiérrez off waivers from the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“He gives us some depth, he’s had a good number of games in the league,” Bradley said on Friday when asked about Gutiérrez. “Another left-footed option, a left-back [or] a centre-back in a three, that type of player. He knows guys like [Jonathan Osorio] pretty well from his few times in the national team, so guys were positive about the move. He was excited to be here.”
Gutiérrez arrived in Toronto with a bit of a stomach bug according to Bradley, so he has not trained with the team as yet. His status for Saturday’s match is up in the air.
Acquiring the defender is a low-risk, high-reward type of move for TFC. Toronto had no real backup left-back option, (Themi Antonoglou and Kobe Franklin are likely too inexperienced to play meaningful minutes), and at his best Gutiérrez has Canadian National Team potential.
He has one year remaining on his contract and made $267,500 in guaranteed compensation last season, according to figures released by the Players’ Association, though Toronto FC will not be on the hook for the defender’s entire salary. The team only claimed a portion of his salary, and for Toronto, a club with limited budget space, to add a player of Gutiérrez’s experience is a tidy bit of business for the Reds.
Still, I do wonder why the club ever traded left-back Luca Petrasso, who by the way, has had a strong start to the year with Orlando City SC.
Born in Quebec, Gutíerrez spent the majority of his life in Chile, where he played for one of the biggest clubs in South America, Colo-Colo, before joining Vancouver via a free transfer in 2020.
As for his perspective of TFC, Gutiérrez said (in Spanish): “[Toronto FC] is a great club, one of the biggest in MLS. It’s always what I heard from other people as well, especially with the players that they have … I am very clear that it’s one of the biggest clubs and I’m going to do my best to always compete and always do my best for the team.”
Let’s hope he does well. He’ll be a backup to Raoul Petretta, and he says he’s relishing the competition.
Added Time: Quick News and Notes
- — Toronto FC (0-2-1) will face Inter Miami FC (2-0-1) at BMO Field on Saturday and will enter as heavy home favourites. Miami (+260) have won five straight games over TFC and have only lost once in six matches.
- — Ayo Akinola (hamstring) and Raoul Petretta (undisclosed) took part in training this week and will be available for Saturday’s game. Insigne, Adamo Diomande, and Shane O’Neill have been ruled out of action, while Themi Antonoglou is listed as questionable.
- — Speaking of Akinola, he is one of four Canadian TFC players to earn a men’s national team call up, joining Jonathan Osorio, Richie Laryea, and Mark-Anthony Kaye. The four, along with backup GK Tómas Romero (who was named to El Salvador’s roster), will miss Toronto’s trip to San Jose on March 25. Fortunately for the Reds, starter Sean Johnson was omitted from the U.S. roster.
- — Best wishes to TFC defender Shane O’Neill, who has been experiencing headaches and has been ruled out of Saturday’s match vs. Miami. O’Neill has a history of head injuries, so that’s always a concern, but the TFC CB did see a specialist and received positive news. He was back on the pitch Friday, doing work on his own with a trainer.
- — Toronto FC II announced their 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season schedule earlier this week. The Young Reds will play all their home games at York Lions Stadium, beginning with their home opener on April 14. Fans will be allowed to attend these matches, with details to be released at a further date.
- — Toronto FC II signed 2023 MLS SuperDraft pick Jalen Watson to an MLS NEXT Pro contract Friday. The 22-year-old CB was selected 32nd overall by the Reds back in January. The Mississauga, Ont. native spent preseason training with the first team.
- — Shoutout to former TFC midfielder Noble Okello, who landed with New England Revolution II on an MLS NEXT Pro contract. The 22 year old joins New England’s second team after four seasons with Toronto.
- — Unless something has miraculously changed overnight, I don’t believe there’s much substance to the Sergio Busquets rumours. TFC simply don’t have the financial backing to sign a player like Busquets – and trust me, I’ve tried to will it into the universe.