“He’s a special player,” said Jonathan Osorio. “The guy is magic.”
When was the last time you woke up to see a Toronto FC highlight tweeted out by FIFA?
It's your first day at a new job. Do you:— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) March 30, 2019
a) Start off quietly, no one likes a show off
b) Take it slow, there's plenty of time to leave an impression
c) Leave jaws on the floor
Any guesses which Alejandro Pozuelo chose at @torontofc? pic.twitter.com/VWlzRgQcbv
Alejandro Pozuelo’s astonishing debut was the biggest story in soccer last night — not MLS, the world. It took the guy less than 90 minutes to instantly shut up thousands of doubtful TFC fans.
“You come in like that, big price tag on your head, Toronto’s not an easy market,” said Jozy Altidore. “Say what you will about MLS, but people get on you if they don’t see something they like. Aside from the dazzling skill they want to see hard work. “
And yet, you’d hardly have known when Pozuelo took the stand for a post-match press conference that he’d felt any sort of pressure. Facing a room full of reporters following his two-goal, one-assist performance in TFC’s 4-0 win over New York City FC, he just sat up there, grinning.
“It was a magical night,” he said. “It will be impossible to forget this night.”
Pozuelo, one of the most quietly confident players to come through this club, was happy to crack jokes. Asked to help solve the mystery of which foot he favours (his assist and chipped goal came from the left, the penalty from the right), he shrugged.
“I’m right-footed,” he said, before adding, “but also sometimes with the left.”
By now, everyone’s probably also heard the story behind his panenka penalty, but just in case:
“To shoot a penalty like this is difficult, but Saturday I had dinner with [president Bill Manning]. He said, we need a guy to shoot penalties, because we lost some because of penalties, blah blah, and I said, well, I’ve come to shoot penalties, so the first penalty I shoot I’ll do the panenka.
“He said you’re crazy, and I said no, I’ll do it. I think always on the first penalty the keeper goes right or left, I think it’s impossible for the keeper to stay in the middle.”
The cheekiest TFC goal in ages gets even cheekier. Pozuelo took it into his own hands to slay the penalty demons that have haunted this club.
It’s been a while since we saw so many smiles around the TFC dressing room. Greg Vanney joked that he’d known since “sometime in January” that Pozuelo would be ready to start today. Jonathan Osorio compared his quality on the ball to Andrés Iniesta. Best of all, TFC are waking up this morning at the top of the Eastern Conference after their best-ever three-game start to an MLS season.
The sheer brilliance of Pozuelo’s impact last night is hard to put into words. He showcased an enormously diverse array of skills, doing pretty much everything right.
He danced around defenders and served up a goal on a plate for Jozy Altidore. He banished Sean Johnson into the shadow realm not once, but twice with two of the gutsiest goals a TFC player has attempted in a long while.
His instant chemistry with Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Osorio was a surprise.
“I’ve always said it’s easy to play with good players,” said Altidore. “He’s very talented, has a good smell for the game. That’s something you can’t really teach.”
Pozuelo had seven successful dribbles and made 57 passes, going five for five on long balls. He even won a tackle in the 43rd minute.
I joked last night that his position was wherever-the-hell-he-feels-like, but damn; it really was. Look at his map of touches from Whoscored:
Pozuelo was everywhere. I’d love to know how much ground he covered, because he seemed to be involved in every single TFC possession, no matter where on the pitch. It wouldn’t be surprising if he put in more mileage than even Michael Bradley, who’s usually the cross-country runner in midfield.
Living in the post-Jermain Defoe era, we obviously have to be careful with expectations. His debut back in 2014 was also amazing (although certainly not quite on this level), and we know how that worked out. It’s only been one game, and I’m holding out to see how he works through fatigue later in the season, with a whole year at Genk already under his belt.
Still, this is the most positive it’s been in TFC-land since the middle of last year’s Concacaf Champions League, at least. The Pozuelo era has begun, and if last night was no fluke (hot take: it wasn’t.), then fans are in for a treat this season.