Stejskal: How Toronto FC plan to onboard Alejandro Pozuelo

Alejandro Pozuelo could make his Toronto FC debut when the Reds host New York City FC at BMO Field next Friday, club GM Ali Curtis told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday.

Pozuelo was signed to a Designated Player contract earlier this month following an extended, contentious transfer saga with Belgian club KRC Genk. The 27-year-old was scheduled to remain with the club until after their final regular season match last Sunday, but he returned to his native Spain several days earlier to reportedly be with his ailing grandfather.

Curtis said that Pozuelo is set to leave Spain for Toronto on Friday. He’ll train with the club and start to get acclimated to the city over the weekend, then dive headlong into prep for the NYCFC match beginning on Monday. If all goes well, he’ll be in the 18 – perhaps even the starting XI – next Friday night.

“If things go according to plan, he should be on the roster for Friday,” Curtis said over the phone on Thursday. “The plan is for him to available and involved at some level for that game.”

Pozuelo will give TFC a creative attacking presence that they’ve lacked so far this season following the January departures of Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez. He had seven goals and 18 assists in 42 appearances across all competitions for Genk this season, including five and 10 in 28 league games. Curtis said he’ll play in front of Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio in TFC’s midfield, likely ending up as more of a Vazquez-style chance creator than as a Giovinco-esque second forward. According to a technical staffer from an opposing MLS club who scouted him while he was at Genk, Pozuelo appears most comfortable when he gets on the ball in pockets of space further back in the attacking third and slips teammates behind opposing defenses.

That style of play works best on a team that has players that regularly try to run in behind. Toronto don’t have that type of player in abundance, but Curtis and Co. are in the market for one. TFC are actively working to make one or two signings using Targeted Allocation Money before the primary transfer window closes on May 7, with Curtis confirming that the club are in the market for at least one winger and potentially a defender.

“I think we’re in a decent way, we’re in some advanced discussions with a number of different players and clubs, so I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to get something done,” said Curtis. “But just like everything, you’re never in complete control. Whether it’s a loan or a transfer, our ability to sign is only one third of the equation. It’s also got to be right for the club and it’s got to be right for the player, so we’re still working hard on that front. It’ll still be a little bit more travel on my calendar coming up, but hopefully we’ll try to get one of these signings over the line as soon as we can, hopefully sooner than later.”

TFC GM Ali Curtis (middle) expects the club to add a few more players to its roster this spring. | Toronto FC

Timing is adding an added layer of difficulty to TFC’s search. In most leagues around the world, the transfer window is currently closed and won’t open again until summer. Any club can sell a player to Toronto for as long as the MLS window is open, but, if their league’s window is closed, they won’t be able to replace their outgoing player. That makes for a tougher market for teams that are looking to buy.

“I think it’s massive,” said Curtis. “If the player you’re looking for is out of the coach’s plans and he’s not playing regularly, then there’s opportunity. But if you’re targeting players that are playing regularly and are significant contributors to their team, it’s just a lot harder because teams don’t want to lose players that are playing regularly that they can’t replace. It’s a massive, massive barrier to getting a deal done. It’s a huge part of the equation.”

In addition to trying to make a couple of new signings, Toronto are also looking for resolution with defender Gregory van der Wiel. Though he was sent home from Toronto’s preseason camp in January amid reports of an “altercation” with head coach Greg Vanney, the Dutchman remains on TFC’s roster. He’s still under contract with the club and his salary counts towards Toronto’s budget, but he’s not training with the team, only working out at the club’s facility on his own. Curtis said that the “most likely solution at this point” is that van der Wiel ends up elsewhere in MLS or moving internationally.

Curtis also shared that Toronto will install their new hybrid playing surface at BMO Field between their April 6 home game against Chicago and their April 19 home match against Minnesota. The SIS Grass hybrid pitch that will be installed is 95 percent grass and five percent synthetic fiber. It was used at six of 12 World Cup stadiums in Russia last summer, is used by several English Premier League teams and by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

Regardless of any potential signings of a new surface, Curtis feels TFC are now operating from “a position of strength” with their roster, especially with Jozy Altidore returned to full health and Pozuelo on his way into camp. The club bounced back from their massively disappointing Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 loss to tiny Panamanian outfit Independiente with back-to-back wins to open their MLS schedule.

There were positive signs in both matches, with Bradley putting on a show in their 3-1 opening day win at Philadelphia before Altidore returned to score a late winner off the bench last Sunday against New England. If they can add a piece or two, Curtis, who started with TFC this winter and said he’s only recently started to fully understand all the club’s operations now that most of the club’s transfer drama has passed, feels Toronto can climb back to the top of MLS after their down 2018.

“The group that we have now, particularly now that Jozy’s back on the field and once Pozuelo arrives, I think the roster that we have right now has a tremendous amount of quality,” he said.

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