While Carlos Vela is currently the talk of Major League Soccer, and rightfully so with a staggering 12 goals in 12 games, few players have had a more immediate, transformative impact in recent memory than Alejandro Pozuelo with Toronto FC. D.C. United will have their hands full in trying to contain Pozuelo and company as they take on the Reds at BMO Field on Wednesday night.
Toronto have experienced as wide of a range of emotions as any team in the league over the last two seasons. The Reds produced a stellar 69-point regular season en route to the 2017 MLS Cup and earned plaudits as possibly the best team in MLS history. They carried that form into the Concacaf Champions League the next spring and came just short of capturing the title, falling to Mexican side Chivas Guadalajara in the final by way of a penalty shootout.
Focusing their efforts on the intercontinental competition at the start of the year combined with a number of injuries to derail their chances of completing another successful league campaign. A 9th-place finish in the East had fans disoriented after their recent highs, and matters only got worse when the club failed to strike a new deal with leading goal scorer Sebastian Giovinco, leading to his departure for Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal.
In steps Pozuelo, who has reignited the attack in style since arriving and has Toronto back in playoff contention. The 27-year-old Spaniard joined as a Designated Player in March, after the MLS season started, from Belgian outfit KRC Genk, where he recorded 25 goals and 60 assists in five years. Stepping into the void left by one of the league’s all-time best players in Giovinco was never going to an easy task, but Pozuelo has wasted no time announcing himself as the best acquisition of the transfer window.
The Seville native made his Toronto debut on March 29th against New York City FC, and immediately wowed his new team. His first assist came roughly a half hour into the match when he zigzagged through defenders into the box and calmly teed up Jozy Altidore to slot home. He got off the mark with a cheeky penalty in the 58th minute before bringing the home crowd to their feet with a brilliant chip over NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson secure a brace twenty minutes later, which ultimately earned Goal of the Week honors.
Fast forward three weeks and another appearance with two goals and an assist, against Minnesota United, captured the league’s Player of the Week title. Take a look at the league’s offensive statistics and you’ll find Pozuelo in the upper echelon across the board. The numbers offer a glimpse of how important he’s been to the team’s turnaround as the heartbeat of everything they do going forward.
Five goals and six assists are remarkable tallies given he’s only appeared in eight matches thus far, and he trails only Portland’s Diego Valeri with 3.4 key passes per game. His ingenuity and ability to pick out a teammate has been on full display, while he’s equally lethal with the ball at his feet – his 2.8 dribbles completed per outing trail only leading MVP-candidate Vela and Houston’s Alberth Elis.
A new-look Pozuelo was at it again this past Saturday, showcasing his ability from dead ball situations. A foul resulted in a Toronto free kick just outside of the box, an incredibly difficult distance to get a strike over the wall and back down under the crossbar. A deft hit with the inside of the foot saw the ball nestle into the top right corner to draw his side level with the Philadelphia Union.
Wednesday night’s tilt marks the first of three consecutive away matches for D.C. United, so it’s imperative they begin the stretch in a positive way. Midfielders Russell Canouse and Junior Moreno will need to produce the same type of industrious performances we’ve witnessed for much of the year to keep Pozuelo in check and allow the back line to deal with the bruising play of Jozy Altidore following his return from injury.