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Villa, Giovinco ready to put on a show as Toronto FC squares off with NYCFC


Toronto FC playmaker Victor Vazquez will have a better appreciation of New York City FC skipper David Villa than most when the two Spaniards take the field Sunday at BMO Field.

Vazquez spent time with Villa at Barcelona and knows firsthand what the 35-year-old forward can do.

"It's always nice to share games, share (time) in the field with a player like Villa. Also like (NYCFC midfielder Andrea) Pirlo," said Vazquez. "Also because I was training with (Villa) a lot in I think it was 2010, 2011 in Barcelona. He's amazing player."

For Vazquez, TFC teammate Sebastian Giovinco (the 2015 MLS MVP) and Villa (MVP in 2016) are the class of Major League Soccer.

"I think both of them are amazing. They score a lot of goals and I'm happy also for (Villa) that he shows he's one of the best strikers in Spain," said Vazquez, no slouch himself with 10 assists to tie for the league lead this season.

"They have the qualities, the skills. They played for (big teams in) Barcelona, for Juventus. They are amazing, and it's a pleasure to play with them and against them," he added. 

Villa is a game-changer and the stuff of nightmares for defenders, likely to pop up anywhere, able to feed teammates or score himself in a variety of ways.

"You're absolutely right. But fortunately we have a guy like that on our team as well, who shows up in random spots and can beat you from anywhere," said Toronto defender Eriq Zavaleta, referencing Giovinco.

Villa arrives here on a four-match scoring streak and his 14 goals this season rank second only to Chicago's Nemanja Nikolic (16). Last time out, Villa scored on a spectacular volley in a 2-1 win over the Fire and beat Toronto's Alex Bono with a swerving shot off the side of his boot in a 2-2 tie July 19 at Yankee Stadium.

"He continues to get better, even as he gets older," Zavaleta said. 

Villa and Giovinco both arrived in MLS in 2015. Villa's tally now stands at 55 goals and 19 assists in 83 regular-season games while Giovinco has 48 goals and 35 assists in 77 games.

"Both of them can make plays out of nothing," said Toronto coach Greg Vanney. "They're winners in their personalities and the way they approach things."

Vanney says while he admires Villa's play when NYCFC are playing someone else, his focus is on trying to stop him when the Spaniard faces TFC. As for Giovinco, he has the luxury of watching him daily.

"It never gets old. And he still manages to pull off some things that maybe we haven't seen from time to time," Vanney said of the Italian. "It's always enjoyable to see great players play the game because a lot of time they just make things that aren't so simple look so simple."

The 30-year-old Giovinco has three goals in TFC's last five games and has nine goals and four assists in 16 games this season. Villa has seven assists to go along with his 14 goals in 20 games.

Giovinco has four goals and two assists in six career regular-season games against NYCFC. Villa has seven goals and one assist in five outings against Toronto.

MLS has been good to the two Europeans in other ways. Giovinco is making US$7.12 million this season while Villa is on $5.61 million.

Sunday's game is a chance for third-place NYCFC (11-6-4) to tie league-leading Toronto (11-3-7) on points.

It won't be easy. Toronto has not lost at home since Oct. 1, 2016, and is 7-0-3 at BMO Field this season. New York, 4-5-1 on the road, is no stranger to snapping streaks, however, having ended Chicago's 11-game unbeaten streak last weekend.

Toronto may have humiliated NYCFC in the playoffs last season, winning the Eastern Conference semifinal 7-0 on aggregate. But TFC has never beaten the New Yorkers in regular-season play (0-2-4)

NYCFC's injury list is long, however, with Khiry Shelton, Ronald Matarrita, Maxime Chanot, Miguel Camargo, Rodney Wallace and James Sands all unavailable. Venezuelan midfielder Yangel Herrera is suspended due to yellow card accumulation.

On the plus side, fullback Ben Sweat has recovered from a head injury suffered against Chicago.

The injuries may mean a 10th start of the season for the 38-year-old Pirlo.

Toronto is missing the injured Steven Beitashour and Benoit Cheyrou. Captain Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Justin Morrow are back from the Gold Cup.


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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