TORONTO – Alejandro Pozuelo made quite the first impression in his MLS debut.
Toronto FC’s newest Designated Player scored twice, in outrageous fashion no less, and picked up an assist in the Reds’ 4-0 win over New York City FC last Friday, prompting his teammate Jonathan Osorio to call the Spanish maestro “magic.”
Acquired after lengthy negotiations from Belgian club KRC Genk, Pozuelo arrives to address the vacancy in the Toronto attack created by the offseason departures of Victor Vazquez and Sebastian Giovinco.
MLSsoccer.com caught up with Pozuelo at the BMO Training Ground on Thursday afternoon; here’s 10 things to know about him.
The Emperor of the Trianeros
Pozuelo hails from Seville, the capital of Andalusia in southern Spain. More specifically, from Triana, a proud and distinct barrio to the southwest of the city center on a peninsula nestled between branches of the Guadalquivir River that flows through town. It was there he first kicked a ball.
“I started playing when I was five or six years in my city, in Triana,” said Pozuelo. “I started there in my first years. And after I go to Betis at nine, 10 years, all [youth] categories to the first team.”
If one should ever find themselves in Seville, his recommendation: “Go to Triana. I'm the boss there.”
Pozuelo worked his way through the system at Real Betis, rising up the various youth levels and playing with their B team in the Segunda Division for two seasons.
“For me, this the best sensation I feel,” said Pozuelo of representing his hometown. “All my family, all my friends were from Seville, from Betis. I played 12, 13 years in every category. When you go to the first team, this is the best emotion you have.”
Some three miles from Triana lies Real Betis' Estadio Benito Villamarin. It was there that Pozuelo would make his first team debut a few weeks after his 20th birthday, coming on as a substitute against UD Levante in October 2011.
Striding onto that pitch was the fulfilment of a dream.
“I'll never forget this feeling,” recalled Pozuelo with a smile. “First time, first game in the first division. It's impossible to say something about, but it's amazing.”
He would score his first goal two months later in a road win over Atletico Madrid.
“The first goal is really special,” said Pozuelo. “Atletico Madrid is a big team, not just in Spain, in Europe. It was special to score [against them].”
EPL-bound and Laudrup
After another season with his hometown side, a phone call lured him away from Betis to Swansea City.
“I go there because [Michael] Laudrup was the coach,” explained Pozuelo. “He called me.”
A Danish legend, Laudrup tore up La Liga, first with Barcelona and then Real Madrid throughout the 1990s.
“I wanted to go there because when I was younger, I looked to football and Laudrup was something bigger,” said Pozuelo, who signed a three-year deal with the Swans. “It was amazing. This guy … not just coach, he [would] play with us in training, come to the rondo, to the small games. The quality to play the game... amazing.”
Pozuelo scored in his debut, a UEFA Europa League match, but within months a coaching change would put a premature end to his time in Wales.
“I played a lot of games with him, but he left in February,” recalled Pozuelo. “When he left, it was not good. So we changed to Spain again.”
Back to Spain, on to Belgium and peak Pozuelo
He returned to Spain with Rayo Vallecano, but minutes were few and far between – he would make just 13 appearances in all competitions. The next season, 2015, he would move to Genk, where his career took flight with regular action.
“I go to Spain one year, but I didn't play too much. They had a player in my position, they did very [well], good season, scored a lot of goals, so I could not have a lot of chances,” said Pozuelo. “I needed to move, so I go to Belgium.”
There, he hit the “best level in professional career.”
In three-plus seasons, Pozuelo would make some 177 appearances, scoring 25 goals and registering 60 assists.
“Now is one of my best moments,” said Pozuelo. “[At] 27 you have the experience. When you are younger, you don't have this focus only on football. Now I have [it]. I played three-and-a-half years in Belgium, played a lot games, Europa League, in cup, in the league. This is my best year.”
Pozuelo proved that in his first appearance for Toronto, tiptoeing deftly into the NYCFC box before squaring a ball to Jozy Altidore after 29 minutes, beating Sean Johnson with a promised panenka in the 58th minute and rounding out his stunning performance with the sweetest clipped-chip one is ever likely to see in the 78th minute before departing to rapturous ovation.
It was another first as well.
“First time in my career, I scored two times in the same game,” smiled Pozuelo. “In my debut, I scored two times. This is crazy.”
As his penalty sailed past the NYCFC ‘keeper, Pozuelo wheeled away to the corner flag in celebration, kissing the tattoo on his right wrist in honor of his grandfather, who passed away recently.
“For my grandpa,” explained Pozuelo. “I have the tattoo for my grandpa and grandmother. Their names and me.”
Speaking after training, still in his gear, Pozuelo's ink was on display: a Tiger on one calf, 'Love' across the back of one hand, to name but a few.
“I have a lot of tattoos,” laughed Pozuelo. “But I cannot explain everything.”
Having just arrived in Toronto himself a week before his debut, Pozuelo eagerly awaits his family joining him – his wife and two boys will fly in on Sunday, a day after TFC welcome the Chicago Fire to BMO Field (3 pm ET | TV and streaming info).
In his time away from the game, they are the priority.
“I'm home with family, afternoons with the children,” he said. “Nothing special.”
In the days before his debut, Pozuelo was able to enjoy some of the perks of being part of the MLSE family, attending both Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs games.
Great experience seeing live @MarcGasol and the Toronto Raptors at the incredible Scotiabank Arena. Good luck for today's game. 🏀 Gran experiencia animando a los Toronto Raptors de @MarcGasol en el increíble Scotiabank Arena. Mucha suerte para el partido de hoy. #NBA #WeTheNorth #Raptors #Toronto #ScotiabankArena @Raptors @NBA
Afterwards, he made what for some Canadians would be a fatal admission.
“I don't like too much hockey, I like more basketball,” said Pozuelo with a grin. “I've never seen hockey before. The problem is, I don't know the rules.”
He more than made up for that error with his performance on the pitch, though.
Concacaf in his sights
The less said about TFC’s 2018 MLS regular season, the better.
But with the club having stormed MLS in 2017 and got within a penalty-kick shootout of being the first MLS side to lift the Concacaf Champions League in 2018, Pozuelo arrives with a clear intent for his new side.
“I came here to win. I know the club wants to win,” stressed Pozuelo. “Again the league, but especially Concacaf. We want to win the Concacaf. We can do something special in these years.”