SEATTLE – Alejandro Pozuelo did not arrive at Toronto FC in the easiest of circumstances. His signing was only finalized two days after the 2019 MLS season had already begun, following a protracted move away from a Genk side that were top of the Belgian league and chasing just a fourth-ever league title.
Oh and he was ostensibly replacing one of the greatest players in MLS history, Sebastian Giovinco.
But you wouldn’t know any of that from the way the 28-year-old Spanish playmaker has adapted to life in Toronto and MLS. Last month he was voted in the 2019 MLS Best XI and on Sunday he will be key to Toronto’s attempts to land a second MLS Cup title in three years.
“I think he was a huge addition to the team, we see now that he was a big part of our team and he’s one of the big reasons why we’re here today as well,” said Toronto’s Richie Laryea in Seattle Thursday ahead of Sunday’s MLS Cup Final against the Sounders at a sold-out CenturyLink Field (3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TUDN in US; TSN, TVAS in Canada).
Arriving in Canada off the back of four seasons in Genk, Pozuelo previously spent two different spells in La Liga with Real Betis and Rayo Vallecano, sandwiching a season in the Premier League with Swansea City.
The decision to leave a title-chasing team reportedly caused consternation at Genk but Pozuelo had no doubt about his decision and has only been vindicated since.
“I knew just before I came to Toronto that it was really important to come here and get to the final," Pozuelo told reporters. "Since day one when I met with the club for the first time, with the general manager of Toronto FC [Ali Curtis], he put forward the layout of the project for Toronto to come back to MLS Cup and I didn’t think too much about it. I just wanted to come because I thought there were a lot of expectations that we can accomplish and so far we have succeeded and achieved all the expectations we had.”
As for the squad he was joining, they had some idea of what to expect courtesy of his fellow-Spaniard, and former TFC player, Victor Vazquez.
“Victor had told a lot of us before he arrived that he was a good player, quality player and I think you’ve seen it from the first game he’s played,” said Toronto striker Jozy Altidore, who has benefited from Pozuelo’s creativity that has produced 14 assists this season.
“I don’t remember playing with a player so two-footed as he is,” added Altidore. "I think it’s pretty impressive how he’s able to from both sides be dynamic. He’s just different. He’s very silky, very technical, a very, very good passer of the ball. I like that he takes risks on the ball. He sees a pass he tries it. If it doesn’t go well, fine he’ll try it again.
“He’s a good guy, he’s a free spirit and I think it shows on the field. And I think he’s been a spectacular addition.”
Pozuelo has also shown his adaptability in recent weeks with Altidore forced to miss all three of Toronto’s games in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs through injury. With Altidore sidelined, Pozuelo has been deployed by coach Greg Vanney as a false nine and he’s flourished with two goals and two assists.
"He's been a great addition as a guy first and foremost, as a player," Vanney said on Friday. "He brings a lot of things that I think are important in this league, like [Nico] Lodeiro brings to Seattle. He’s a playmaker, he recognizes where spaces are, he's manipulating the game in different ways."
Now as the curtain prepares to come down on his first season in the league, Pozuelo has suggested, following on from transfer rumors, that he could even be united with the man he replaced.
But with or without Giovinco, there is unlikely to be any let up for MLS defenses in 2020.
“I think he can be better,” Altidore said of Pozuelo. “This is his first season, he’s had a long year, a lot of games, played like 70-something games. So I think he needs a break and I think next season he can be even better.”