Phil Neville conferred with several MLS veterans in and around Inter Miami CF to get their perspectives on the club’s newest arrival, Alejandro Pozuelo.
The Herons’ head coach got rave reviews from the likes of Victor Ulloa and Federico Higuain, who called the Spanish playmaker “the best player he’s ever played against in this league,” no small compliment given the elder Higuain’s distinguished decade of play with Columbus Crew, D.C. United and Miami.
Perhaps the highest praise came from an Eastern Conference adversary, though.
“I spoke to Jim [Curtin] briefly the other night [after the Philadelphia Union’s 2-1 win over IMCF],” said Neville during the Friday afternoon press conference that marked Pozuelo’s first media appearance with his new club since the Designated Player’s July 7 trade from Toronto FC for just $150,000 in General Allocation Money and additional considerations.
“And [Curtin] just made a sort of like an off-the-cuff comment about, ‘good luck with Pozuelo, he’ll get you in the playoffs’-type comment. Which shows you the respect that he's got in this league. So he comes with an aura. He comes with a reputation and now he has to deliver.”
"He's fit in really well"
Thanks to his achievements at Toronto, where he led the Reds to the MLS Cup 2019 final and won the 2020 Landon Donovan MLS MVP award, Pozuelo arrives with a lofty reputation and great expectations. And he says there’s nowhere he’d rather be, noting the positive vibes and “very Latino” flavor of the Miami locker room.
“Miami approached me some time ago,” said Pozuelo in Spanish. His current contract is up at the end of the 2022 season. “I knew the club from having played against them, I knew some people at the club and we had been in touch. And my girlfriend is here in Miami, her family's from Miami. So it was always my first option, my main option, to come here.
“During the summer I had the options of maybe going abroad, outside of the league. But when I spoke to Miami I really wanted to come here to be part of this project. I come here with a lot of enthusiasm, I’m very eager to help the team make the playoffs. We have the players to be up there in the table. And I'm trying to achieve here what I did with Toronto, which was to make the final, and win.”
Neville sounds ready to give Pozuelo his Herons debut when Charlotte FC visit DRV PNK Stadium on Saturday night (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), perhaps even in the starting XI. The 30-year-old hasn’t seen game action since Toronto’s match vs. Seattle Sounders FC on July 2.
“He's fit in really well with a group, I've got to say. And the only adaptation, I suppose, will be that he's only had two days training in the last 10 days, and in the Florida heat,” said Neville. “But in terms of experience in this league, he knows how to play in this league. He knows how to win in this league and he knows how to perform in this league. And it's the performance bit that is the reason we signed him.
“He's the type of player where experience will cover up some of the physical shortcomings he might have in this next five, six days. And his connection in the training sessions over the last couple of days with Gonzalo [Higuain], with [Jean] Mota, it's been really good. So we'll see how he feels after the press conference. He's trained this morning, and we'll make a decision tomorrow whether he starts or whether he comes on and impacts the game.”
Pozuelo tabbed four goals and five assists in 16 league appearances for TFC this season, yet lacked an optimal position in Bob Bradley’s preferred 4-3-3 formation and cut a frustrated figure at times amid the Canadian club’s sweeping – and ongoing – 2022 overhaul.
The fact that he’s in the final year of his contract, combined with the Reds’ securement of Federico Bernardeschi – who’s their second high-grade Italian winger, given the recent arrival of Lorenzo Insigne – opened the door for Miami to acquire him for a fraction of his usual market value. Asked about his relationship with TFC upon departure, Pozuelo said he had no problems moving along.
“I’m very happy to be here. When the president [Bill Manning] communicated that I need to come here,” he said, “my only question to him was, ‘when do I need to go? Today? Tomorrow? I need to go now.’
“I think I can do something special here.”
Long sought-after No. 10
Flashy, fashionable and ambitious, chronically linked with some of the biggest names in the soccer world since long before they played a game, Inter Miami have struggled to find a showpiece maestro to orchestrate their attack in their two and a half years of existence.
Mexican international Rodolfo Pizarro failed to settle in south Florida before being loaned to Liga MX's CF Monterrey this past winter. Gonzalo Higuain wears the No. 10 shirt but is fundamentally more of a striker. Bryce Duke has been a surprisingly strong performer this season after an offseason trade from LAFC, yet remains in the early stages of his career. All the talk about Lionel Messi donning their pink and black kits remains just that, talk.
Pozuelo, however, is an elite string-puller, ideally suited for a central playmaking deployment, and ready to hit the ground running and combine with those like Leo Campana as the Herons chase a postseason return. Entering Week 21, they’re four points below the Eastern Conference’s qualification line.
“This is a good question for the coach,” he said of his positional assignment in Miami. “[But] yeah, for me, this is my best position. But I can play [on the] right, or like an 8, but my best position is like a No. 10. It’s when I do my best year in Toronto.”
What Inter Miami are getting in Alejandro Pozuelo