As one would expect, most of the questions directed at Greg Vanney in his post-game press conference last night were about Alejandro Pozuelo. He responded to those questions mostly by talking about the team performance as a whole.
It was a very coach-like approach, to deflect from the individual and focus on the collective. However, he made a good point in the process: While Pozuelo has deservedly stolen the vast majority of headlines with his spectacular debut, there were no shortage of reasons to celebrate last night’s win.
Pozuelo’s match had all the elements of a Sebastian Giovinco masterclass of the 2015 vintage, but it wasn’t just one player putting the entire team on his back. What was perhaps more impressive was how Pozuelo seamlessly fit into a Toronto FC team that had already been showing promise.
“It’s better to have those types of performances than just have one guy play out of his mind and the rest of the team not play so well,” said Toronto FC coach Vanney after the match.
Pozuelo himself was quick to credit the contributions of his teammates when asked about how quickly he was able to integrate into the group.
“My teammates are amazing, the players helped me a lot from the first day so this is more easy to play,” said Pozuelo. “I want to say thank you to my team.”
The midfield, in particular, clicked almost instantly. That certainly wasn’t a given considering how much Pozuelo — and Michael Bradley — move around and pop up in different positions. A quick look at Pozuelo’s passing map during the game shows just how much of the field he covered during the game.
Like with Bradley, that amount of energy is a good thing. However, it does take smart midfielders to be able to fill in the gaps that are created. Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio were able to do this almost seamlessly, with Oso pushing forward when Pozuelo dropped back and Delgado covering Bradley when he forayed forward.
“We have a group that is absolutely not shy of running, and covering and doing the defensive work,” said Vanney.
When Toronto had the ball, Pozuelo and Osorio showed instant chemistry. The first and third goal, plus the play that led to the penalty for the second goal, were partially created by excellent runs and passes from Osorio.
With Pozuelo in the lineup, the Canadian is able to go back to what appears to be his best role. That is as a number 8 who can provide a secondary threat and create space and runs off of the number 10.
Perhaps even more important than the offence continuing to fire on all cylinders is the fact that yesterday was the best defensive performance of the season for the club, as well as their first clean sheet. After all, Toronto’s issue last year was never scoring goals, it was conceding them.
“Our defensive structure and our shape tonight was as good as it has been all year, against a team that I think has good movement and have good players that can hurt you,” said Vanney.
For the second straight game, Toronto FC limited their opponent to just 7 shot attempts, which is well below the league average. They have also averaged 1.34 xG against per game so far this year, which is down from 1.5 last season. The sample size could not be much smaller, but there is evidence the improvement is there.
If there was a perfect little bow to put on a solid team performance last night, it came in the form of Jay Chapman’s 83rd minute goal off the bench. Sure, it came in garbage time, but it was further evidence that depth players on the team this year are looking to make the most of their minutes.
So while March 29, 2019 will forever be Pozuelo’s night, it might also be the moment Toronto FC as a team re-emerged from whatever abyss consumed them in 2018.