TORONTO, Canada—What does ‘close’ even mean any more?
Toronto FC are off to their worst start in Major League Soccer since 2012, and with their upcoming schedule not getting any easier—beginning with Wednesday’s match vs. the reigning MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew SC—pressure is beginning to build.
With just four goals in three matches so far, in my opinion, Toronto FC’s lack of creativity in the final third has been their biggest issue, at least moving forward. If you’re not creating chances, if you’re not able to maintain some sort of structure, you can’t expect either of Jozy Altidore or Ayo Akinola to be dangerous—that’s not the type of players that they are; they’re strikers who fiend off great service.
That issue was quite prevalent in the Reds’ 2-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls this weekend where the team only managed to muster one shot on target, and didn’t really create a serious goal scoring opportunity. Without Alejandro Pozuelo or Jonathan Osorio in the side to occupy that No. 10 role, it was Nick DeLeon, a player who typically plays out wide, trying to be the outlet in the middle of the park, and it just wasn’t good enough. Again, there was no structure and everything was too predictable.
So on that note, where in the world is Toronto FC’s ‘puller of strings’: reigning MVP Pozuelo?
Here’s the latest injury update we have from head coach Chris Armas on Thursday:
“What I can say is that he was out there today, and he was moving, he was running, he’s doing all the things, getting himself close,” said Armas. “So it’s getting close, he’s not there yet, but we all want him back—yesterday. But he is close. What you can see, when he takes the mask off nowadays, he’s smiling, happiest place is back on the pitch, but it’s getting close with him.”
After becoming the first player in franchise history to start every game for Toronto FC a year ago, albeit in a shortened, pandemic-burdened season, Pozuelo has missed the first seven matches of the year after going down with a thigh injury on April 1 in a preseason match vs. the Columbus Crew.
On the TSN broadcast yesterday, it was reported that the Spaniard would miss the next seven to 14 days. That would mean Pozuelo would be out for Columbus on Wednesday, possibly New York City FC on Saturday, and then potentially even Orlando City SC the following Saturday. Those are games you’d rather have Pozuelo in, however, not at the expense of re-risking injury of course.
The issue right now with the Pozuelo situation, in my opinion, is the lack of transparency. Toronto FC have been very vague in their responses when asked about their star, as Armas’ answer above has essentially been the status quo for the past two weeks.
Injuries, especially muscle-related injuries, can be very tricky, so perhaps the vague sort of responses are the best ones Toronto FC can provide at this time, but that’s leading to more frustration within the TFC fanbase because the club is doing a horrible job on the pitch of ‘buying time’ for their star player to recover.
And while it’s concerning that one or two players can make that much of a difference, I don’t think Pozuelo’s impact for this club can be overstated.
He’s a game changer, and Toronto FC need their game changed right now. Before we move on, I’ll add that we’ll likely get a further injury update on the status of Pozuelo before Wednesday’s match vs. Columbus.
As for Osorio and Altidore, who were both said to be available for Saturday’s match Thursday afternoon by Armas, here’s the latest we have on them when I asked the TFC coach following yesterday’s defeat if something had happened over night:
“Yes, something did happen, right,” said Armas. “Jozy from the previous match has just had, you know, a little illness. We’ve had a few players with, you know, is it because of the México trip? We’ve had a couple of guys battling and staff members. With Jonathan, yesterday in training — upper leg, let’s say. So yeah, so when I tell you guys are available, it’s straight and overnight, sometimes things change. But that’s how it’s gone with those guys.”
The reality is that we won’t know what this Toronto FC team really looks like until they get all three of those starters back into the mix, especially Pozuelo. But if we have to wait until June for that to happen and the team continues to perform the way they do without those guys in the lineup, with four more matches in May and only seven teams making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference this year, it may be too late to salvage this season—and we’re only a month in.
If Pozuelo is out for the next week as reported, let’s hope the team finds a way to pick up three points in at least one of their two outings this week to take some pressure off the return of their star No. 10, because if not, like I said, it could make for a very long rest of the season.