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The tactical decision to trade Alejandro Pozuelo

It may have just been to open a DP slot, but it was also a creative decision that led to Pozuelo’s departure.

Alejandro Pozuelo during a game against FC Cincinnati on April 30, 2022
Sean Pollock/Waking the Red

The trade of Alejandro Pozuelo to Inter Miami may have come as a shock to many Toronto FC fans this week, but it was a change that was requisite for the future of this squad.

When Spanish midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo arrived in Toronto in March 2019, it felt like the dawn of a new era for TFC was just beginning.

Toronto was just coming off two final appearances in MLS Cup (2016 & 2017) and would go on to reach the finals again later that same year. After the 2020 season concluded, the club announced head coach Greg Vanney would be leaving. And such, Toronto FC’s triumphant, historical golden run was ending. It was an unexpected change, but for a club destined to enter a new chapter, it was necessary.

After an abysmal season last year, Toronto FC struggled to perform, and despite hiring a new head coach in Chris Armas (and then letting interim head coach Javier Perez take charge), changes were needed. Moreover, Bob’s appointment couldn’t have come at a better time.

When Bob Bradley was appointed as head coach and sporting director of Toronto FC at the end of 2021, he wasn’t just introducing Toronto to a new way of playing, he was also bringing with him his vision, his tactics and his recipe for bringing LAFC to the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League final.

Toronto FC were long past the glory days of the 2016-2017 and 2019 playoff runs. What was old was simply becoming a stalemate on the field and TFC were in desperate need of a new vision. That vision? What if Toronto FC became the Italian powerhouse of MLS?

In an interview with the Sun in January 2022 after the acquisition of Lorenzo Insigne, club President Bill Manning stated that he was looking at the Italian national team to determine which players were out of contract and who could potentially bring their world class presence to BMO Field.

Speaking about the Italian men’s national team’s victory during EURO 2020, Manning said Toronto has a huge number of Italian soccer fans inside of a vibrant soccer community. Manning said,

“It was my vision with the World Cup coming to Canada (in 2026) that we needed to swing for the fences. And the time was right. Toronto FC’s really been out of market for two full seasons. And we lost a buzz.”

“(Insigne) was our number one target because we think everything he brings to the table is something that this fan base and this city craves. Bob and I really think Insigne’s going to be our anchor as we rebuild this team.”

After Insigne was signed, speculation began as to who would be next to sign for the Reds? Belotti? Criscito? Bernardeschi? All of whom were out of contract at the end of the 2021-2022 season, and all of whom have been rumoured with links in the past to the club.

On June 29, Dominico Criscito became the latest addition for the TFC side, having competed against Insigne during their time in Serie A in Italy.

The vision that was set forth when Bob Bradley took the reins was already gaining momentum, and the plan was just getting started. The plan to rebuild this club into a contender was put into action. This past offseason saw TFC depart with 17 players from the 2021 season, something that’s rare, but not unheard of in MLS.

When Manning stated that Insigne was going to be “the anchor as we rebuild this team,” Pozuelo’s time with TFC appeared to have been numbered, as the Spaniard was specifically brought in to be the anchor that carried TFC back into the title race. He was destined to be the next Víctor Vázquez.

Playing in the final year of his contract, Pozuelo had a lot of pressure to build upon his 2020 success after winning the MLS MVP. Injuries and personal issues off the field in 2021 saw Pozuelo struggle to maintain consistency over his 19 appearances during the MLS campaign. He started to bounce back earlier this season with a number of positive performances, where it looked like he would eventually return to his former self. But despite getting approval to have more freedom and roam the pitch in attacking areas to create chances, he just never really fit the attack Bob Bradley was picturing.

Bob Bradley, in his time with LAFC prefers to play in a 4-3-3 tactic, usually played without a number 10 (Pozuelo’s best role). It was also probably in the best interest of TFC management to not bring back Pozuelo since his contract would be expiring at the end of this season. So, rather than letting him go on a free, TFC managed to get something back for him, even though it was a small portion of his value to the club, it was the right move for the taking.

Before the trade, in many games this season, Pozuelo was seen out of position numerous times, usually playing on the right wing or floating around the attacking third, trying to build up the play, and was never looking like he was really going to bounce back to his 2020 MLS MVP form. Pozuelo is an accomplished attacking playmaker and one that thrived under Vanney’s TFC. But for Bob Bradley’s system, who favours a 4-3-3 without an attacking playmaker, Pozuelo simply didn’t fit.

Pozuelo left TFC with 100 career appearances in the red shirt and scored four goals and provided four assists this season. He contributed in many ways to the attack and even got along well with his fellow Spaniard, Jesús Jiménez, linking up a few times for two goals and two assists. In another world, perhaps Pozuelo would have thrived under Bob Bradley.

In the long run, it was beneficial for both sides to part ways. Pozuelo’s ability decreased over his three-year tenure with the club. For Inter Miami, they are receiving a player who is capable of being one of the main attractions that Phil Neville will now have at his disposal. Pozuelo will be a standout in Miami and could eventually find his old form once again under new direction. Time will tell.

With the additions of Lorenzo Insigne and Dominico Criscito and rumoured interest in Federico Bernardeschi, it’s clear to see that TFC is going in a new direction: a starting 11 that may feature a majority of Italians. A similar tactic to LAFC’s 2020 CONCACAF Champions League run is most likely what is to be expected from head coach Bradley, with the additions of an inside-winger in Insigne and possible newcomers who will slot into the available positions.

Toronto FC could very much be in the competitive discussion later this year with the moves it has already made, and the future moves it will evidently make.

A new chapter has just begun for TFC; an era that will compete for silverware sooner rather than later.