“Alejandro Pozuelo was not brought in as a replacement for Sebastian Giovinco.” - an iteration or approximation of the early messaging from Toronto FC.
Retweet, repeat, and rinse as necessary.
This was the point that Toronto FC was adamant about when first introducing Pozuelo’s acquisition to fans and media. To be clear, what they really meant was that the attacking midfielder was not a replacement for Giovinco’s style of play: Pozuelo and Seba were — and are — different types of players.
But when one shiny former European acquisition (and MLS MVP) is shown the door to make room for another new shiny European designated-player acquisition, the comparisons will be inevitable.
The Spaniard probably did himself no favours, impressing right out of the gate with one of the most memorable debuts ever in all of Toronto sports history scoring two of the cheekiest goals ever seen at BMO Field.
In the next weeks to months that followed, there was more flashes of jaw-dropping magic, as we saw the full breadth of Pozuelo’s talents. With little support in an unstructured side, Toronto’s No. 10 became a box-to-box midfielder who would come back and defend against incursions into the midfield, and then once the ball was gained, he had enough patience and talent to smartly advance the ball through individual attacks and runs rather than just push the ball ahead without numbers.
Pozuelo’s strength in the attacking midfield — along with the continued emergence of Marky Delgado — has also allowed captain Michael Bradley to shoulder less of the transition game and focus more on the aspects of a defensive midfielder. The effects of Pozuelo were felt throughout the lineup.
No more was this evident than when he had the ball in the attacking third and showed an excellent knack of getting the ball to Jozy Altidore in favourable situations for the striker to find the back of the net. The new partnership looked formidable, and everything was pointing in the right direction...
But lately, Alejandro Pozuelo hasn't been Alejandro Pozuelo. At least not that Alejandro Pozuelo. And when you can't be Alejandro Pozuelo...you certainly can't be what Toronto FC needs most at this time of the year:
Sebastian Giovinco — or more aptly: the idea of “Sebastian Giovinco.”
From 2015-2018, Giovinco had the unique ability to erase Toronto FC’s roster shortcomings with a singular brilliance at key moments. Not enough speed on the wings? Seba would turn on the jets down the lines. No one to provide service for the strikers? Giovinco became the table setter for Altidore and Tosaint Ricketts, while also managing to find his own goals. Needed someone to take set pieces? Well, how about developing a free-kick resume that’s rivalled those of the best players in the world.
How often would we watch a match, where the opposition had 60% possession, doubled the shots on net, controlled the passing and pace of the game, looked both statistically and visually to dominate the Reds...only to then fall 2-1 to TFC because of a physics defying free-kick from Seba and/or a 1v1 attack which had some poor hapless defender seriously contemplating a mid-life career change?
While Pozuelo wasn't expected to be that same player physically, it’s evident that the club needs him to be that same player in spirit. So what’s changed?
Well, gone is that box-to-box midfielder who can run non-stop for 90 minutes everywhere on the pitch, and instead has emerged a player who picks his spots on the wing, and makes attacking cuts that aren't nearly as devastating to the opposition’s back line.
If he plays tomorrow, it’ll be his 73rd match since the start of his “season” 14 months ago pic.twitter.com/TqWOzSRljX— Martyn Bailey (@martyn_bailey) September 28, 2019
Instead of precision passes through holes the size of a needle head that often find the feet of his strikers, far too often now we see attempted passes into the feet of the defenders, a split-second too late to match the run of his teammates. It’s clear that the player has a vision and the mind can see the play develop, but the legs and feet just aren't executing that vision.
To describe this, I have developed a brand new advanced metric: the TAH scale, aka the Tired as Hell scale. And on the TAH scale, Pozuelo rates an absolute 10 out of 10, smashing any previous TAH metric ever recorded.
Pozuelo has basically played a full 12 months now without a rest, and the effects of this are showing. The brilliant rejuvenated player from June looks like a lesser version of his former self, and that just doesn't work for this iteration of Toronto FC. A healthy and rested Pozuelo is what the Reds need to make any impact in the MLS Cup playoffs because while depth is a beautiful thing for the regular season, in the playoffs you need your starting XI to be absolutely razor sharp — and one of those XI has to be capable of taking the game over and turning it on its head. The club needs its Sebastian Giovinco of 2019.
So a modest proposal then:
With two games left in the regular season and at a time when Toronto FC is neck-and-neck with DC United and the NY Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference with a possible first-round home playoff game on the line — sit Alejandro Pozuelo down.
Forget the starting XI — don't even have him in your list of eligible 18. Treat him like an injured player who can't make his return until first round of the MLS Cup playoffs, and have him exclusively work with your physio and rehab team. Get him into ice baths, on muscle stimulators, on magic powder from Hateno Village, whatever it takes to dump that lactic acid and get the blood flowing back into those legs.
Meanwhile, use the remaining two games to see if a trio of Tsubasa Endoh, Nicolas Benezet and Erickson Gallardo can provide a trident-like attack behind Altidore. Heck, see if maybe Jonathan Osorio can work out some of the cobwebs that have plagued his lackluster season. Or turn to Nick Deleon. The options are aplenty. Toronto FC’s depth has emerged.
The playoffs are clinched, but of course, just making them isn't the goal here. After a disappointing start to the CONCACAF Champions League, and a gut wrenching end to the Voyageurs Cup, the MLS Cup remains as the only piece of hardware attainable for the club.
The mindset of this team now should be to win that with full gusto. The roster expenditure of 3 DP’s and numerous TAM players demands that; a provincial club, this is certainly not.
Regardless, in the way that this current version of Toronto FC are set up to win the Cup, it requires winning several games on the road, so who cares if round 1 is at home or away? The bigger goal should be to have a rested Pozuelo for the month-long push. A Pozuelo who even looks and operates at 75% of what he was in June could be all the difference that this team needs.
It’s going to be October 2019 in a few short days, and Sebastian Giovinco isn't walking through the door...but Alejandro Pozuelo still can. Just sit him down long enough to ensure that the player who eventually does walk through that door is the player that this club needs, rather than the one who evokes memories of ghosts of BMO Field’s past.