TORONTO — Victor Vázquez was on quite the run of form. Entering Toronto FC’s match against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, the Catalan had either scored or assisted seven of the Reds’ previous 10 goals.
But after a streak of 10 consecutive starts, Vázquez is back on the physio’s table. First plagued by a nerve problem in his back early in the campaign, the playmaker recently has been managing a quad issue. Both he and defender Gregory van der Wiel (Achilles) did not train Friday, instead seeing the team’s medical staff for maintenance work that Reds coach Greg Vanney said included platelet-rich plasma injections. It was thought they would still be in contention to feature against the Red Bulls.
But neither ended up in the squad for the 1-0 loss — and now Vázquez is dealing with swelling in his knee, too.
“We are trying to manage the swelling,” Vanney said. “While that’s going on, he doesn’t have full range of motion and you can’t put a guy out there that doesn’t feel like he’s free to move right now. He’s just not available, unfortunately.”
Vázquez’s status for road games at Minnesota United and Sporting Kansas City this week is in doubt, but the club hopes Van der Wiel will be able to travel. Veteran center back Jason Hernandez has also become a concern, forced off with a hamstring problem against the Red Bulls.
With right back Auro still struggling after his withdrawal against New York City FC a week ago and unlikely to make the trip, Toronto will be shorthanded once again.
Giovinco’s penalty record under scrutiny
Sebastian Giovinco has now missed five of the past seven penalties he has taken in MLS games. The Italian was denied by Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles in the 78th minute of Sunday’s game, potentially costing Toronto a point.
The question now is whether Giovinco’s remarkable change in fortunes from 12 yards — he scored eight of his first nine penalties for TFC — will force Vanney to adapt his hands-off approach. The coach took spot kicks himself during his playing days and believes in allowing “whoever steps up with confidence” to shoot.
Jul 1, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto FC midfield Michael Bradley (4) challenges New York Red Bulls midfield Tyler Adams (4) during the regular season MLS game between the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC at BMO Field. Mandatory Credit: Gerry Angus-USA TODAY Sports
Vanney’s admission that he might have to have some kind of discussion with his team about penalty taking was the closest he has ever come to ceding ground on the issue.
“Maybe it’s something we’ll talk about more, but at the end of the day I really believe that it’s about belief and having a clear plan and going for it,” he said. “Seba hit it hard and he hit it into a reasonable spot. I think the keeper just anticipated where Seba typically goes and he went for it.”
Robles expects TFC to bounce back
Robles, who stopped the penalty and seven other shots and was the undoubted man of the match, was thrilled to record a road win against a Toronto side he still regards as the team to beat in MLS despite its poor season. The veteran turned down the opportunity to take a jab at Giovinco when asked if the fear factor around TFC’s star man had faded.
“When we game plan, it starts with Giovinco and it ends with Michael Bradley,” Robles said. “It’s really too bad that this team has dealt with injuries, because you know if it wasn’t for those injuries they would be right there at the top. We got them at a time where they’re still dealing with injuries. It’s going to be scary when they get all of their players [healthy], and then when you have that cherry on top like a player like Sebastian Giovinco — then you feel like you can absolutely go through walls.”