Goal scoring can be an excellent camouflage. If you're netting goals, creating them with assists, or contributing to the build-up of them, so long as the ball is going in the net, it can be hard to see or care about anything else.
This is the plight of FC Cincinnati striker Brandon Vazquez, or it can be if you ask head coach Pat Noonan. Vazquez's ability to consistently put the ball in the net for his team may overshadow all his other skills and contributions that have been (and are) vital to the club's success.
"He does so many little things well that will go unnoticed because the expectation is for him to continue scoring goals like he has for the past couple of years," Noonan said after Saturday's come-from-behind draw in Philadelphia. "He's always giving the effort. It's never short of him working hard for the team.
"From his strengths in the box to help us score goals, to his defensive work and understanding of his responsibilities and how we get pressure to the ball, to set piece defending. He's just an all-around strong player."
Vazquez played an integral role in earning a result in Philadelphia, assisting on the night's first goal for FCC, then scoring the equalizer to win a point from losing position. But if one only looked at the score sheet, they would miss the full scope of his contributions.
If you were to spend your time watching the U.S. National Team member exclusively, you'd see a player who competes in every moment. Making runs to chase down attackers on the offensive end, playing box-to-box to facilitate offense, and generally battling for every inch and second from an opponent.
Almost more importantly, you'd see a player who understands how to encourage his teammates when his leadership is needed.
In the 23rd minute of Saturday's match, Philadelphia Union struck first with a goal from José Martínez. It was the seventh time in eight games FCC had conceded first and put The Orange and Blue in a difficult spot at Subaru Park, a place where only eight times in the previous two seasons had a team escaped with a point.
The moment left some with their heads down, retreating to the midfield mark to restart play. But Vazquez took the moment and the initiative to gather the group and passionately work to refocus and re-energize his teammates by giving a speech (the contents of which Vazquez would not share), waving his arms up to indicate lifting their energy and staying together.
"We just needed the most out of everybody to step up and so I was just trying to help the team by motivating everyone," Vazquez said of the moment. "It comes from everyone. Everyone steps up at different moments. Sometimes it's (Luciano Acosta), sometimes it's (Matt Miazga). It's on everyone, but I guess today it was me."
Vazquez was called on one more time in the final moments of Saturday's match, stepping up after Yerson Mosquera was sent off for his second yellow card, leaving FC Cincinnati down a man for the final seven minutes plus stoppage time.
Down a man, and with his strike partner Aaron Boupendza already subbed off for another defender, Vazquez was required to play a more defensive role to support his back line. Time and time again, the 24-year-old played responsible soccer in the defensive end and midfield to avert disaster. Making run after run to close out space, win the ball, and either clear or advance possession despite clearly looking fatigued after playing an intense 90 minutes of football.
"He's an exceptional player that is always somebody you can trust in challenging moments," Noonan said of Vazquez's late-game performance. "He is somebody that you know is going to do what's in the best interest of the team.
"You see it at the end of the game when we're down a man for that stretch. The work that he's putting in and understanding how important it is for our team at that moment; it looks similar to many of his performances. He's always giving the effort. It's never short of him working hard for the team."
Vazquez has now logged six goals and four assists in the MLS season after his performance in Philadelphia, and is playing his best soccer of the season at the right moment as the club chases a trophy. "BV" has four goal contributions in his last six games in league play and 11 contributions in his previous 10 matches across all competitions.
"I think the expectation of this team is to win no matter who we're playing,” Vazquez added. “I think it's important that we all have that energy every single game finishing off the season. We need it if we want to be champions."