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Toronto FC's Victor Vazquez takes a corner kick against the Chicago Fire during a game on July 28, 2018.Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press

Early in the second half against Chicago on the weekend, Toronto FC playmaker Victor Vazquez got the ball and headed toward one corner of the Fire penalty box.

The elegant Spaniard took two defenders with him, with a third unsure which way to turn. Before the befuddled Fire player could make up his mind, Vazquez took all three out of the equation by sending the ball back the other way via a short diagonal back-heel to Sebastian Giovinco, who found Jonathan Osorio racing toward the byline. Osorio’s cross caused mayhem in the box before Jozy Altidore slammed the ball home for the game’s first goal.

“That’s Victor,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said admiringly after the 3-0 victory.

Back after sitting out with a wonky knee, Vazquez is once again the straw that stirs the TFC drink.

“He’s a key to our team,” Vanney said.

Like captain Michael Bradley, the 31-year-old Vazquez helps connect the Toronto backline to the attackers. It is Vazquez’s vision, however, that helps him find teammates in good positions and take opponents where they don’t want to go.

“I call them areas of uncertainty,” said Vanney, “where guys aren’t really sure how to deal with him.”

“What goes on between his ears is different than what happens between most guys’ ears on the field,” he added. “He just has such a great way to manipulate the game, especially on the attacking side.

“Defensively, he also is incredibly aware. He’s not a defender per se, but he’s very aware of what’s most dangerous and helping us to take that away and make things clearer for the guys behind him to help us to win balls. Just an intelligent player, off the charts.”

Osorio says playing alongside Vazquez is a joy.

“It’s easy. So easy,” said Osorio, who is having a banner year with 14 goals in all competitions. “Victor makes you look better so it’s nice to have him on the field.

“His brain ticks a little bit faster than the normal brain, especially on the pitch. It’s amazing to watch. … Obviously the team plays better when he’s on the field. Like I said, he makes other guys better. Even in the small-side games [in practice] everybody wants him on their team.”

The numbers back Osorio up.

Because of injury, Vazquez has started just 11 of Toronto’s 21 league games this season. TFC has collected 15 of its 22 points in his starts (4-4-3) and just seven points in the 10 games (2-7-1) when he didn’t start.

Vazquez was 11 when he joined the storied Barcelona youth system in 1997. He worked his way up and made a handful of appearances with the first team. But his career was compromised by a serious knee injury in 2009.

He made it back after a long rehab and scored for Barca, but there seemed little future for him at the star-studded club. He found a home at Club Brugge in 2011, earning Belgian Professional Footballer of the Year honours in the 2014-15 season.

A 2016 move to Cruz Azul in Mexico did not work out so well, with his family unhappy in Mexico City. Toronto FC made him an offer and Vazquez has not looked back.

With a salary of US$1.5-million, he ranks No. 4 on the team’s payroll behind designated players Altidore, Bradley and Giovinco. He has five goals and seven assists this season.

Vazquez, who played 82 minutes on the weekend in his first start since June 24, says his troublesome knee is co-operating these days.

“I’m feeling great,” he said. “I’m feeling back to normal, almost. I still feel some pain in my knee but nothing to be worried about. I’m happy because I played 82 minutes. I didn’t expect that in my first game [back].

“We won 3-0 [against Chicago]. I gave good balls to the strikers like I always try to do. I worked hard for the team and now we are back. We have all the players back. Only [defender Drew Moor] is still out, but he’s going to be back really soon.

“And with all the guys back, we are happy and everyone can see now the game and our style is coming back.”

Backup striker Tosaint Ricketts sat out practice on Tuesday and is listed as day-to-day with a mild groin strain. Brazilian wingback Auro is back in full training and should be available for selection for Saturday’s game at league-leading Atlanta (14-4-5).

TFC (6-11-4) has won four straight in all competitions as its roster returns to health and it looks to climb back into the playoff picture.

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