SEATTLE — When Toronto FC sold former MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco in January, there were plenty of questions as to how the club planned to replace the dynamic playmaker without a notable drop in production.
The answer, as it turned out, was Alejandro Pozuelo.
Toronto FC is set to play the Seattle Sounders in an MLS Cup Final for the third time in four years on Sunday, and Pozuelo is poised to play a starring role. The 28-year-old Spaniard has helped lead Toronto FC on its surprise postseason run to the title game at CenturyLink Field, scoring a pair of goals and assisting on two others in three playoff appearances.
Pozuelo’s playoff productivity has been an extension of his form during the regular season, and has been especially vital with primary goal-scorer Jozy Altidore sidelined since Oct. 6 with an injury.
“He’s just different,” said a marveling Altidore on Thursday. “He’s very silky, very technical, a very, very good passer of the ball. I like that he takes risk on the ball. If he sees a pass, he tries it. If it doesn’t go well, he will try it again.
“He’s a good guy, he’s a free spirit, and I think it shows on the field and I think he’s been a spectacular addition.”
Toronto FC fans are likely to agree with that. Tasked with immediately replacing the contributions of talented catalyst Giovinco, Pozuelo filled the Italian playmaker’s shoes in 2019 by recording 12 goals and 12 assists in 30 regular-season games.
Never mind that Pozuelo had to adapt to playing on a new team, in a new league, and in a new country after years in Belgium.
“I think he can be better, too,” said Altidore. “I think this first season he’s had a long year, a lot of games (after coming over during the middle of the European season). He’s played like 70-something games, so I think he needs a break and I think next year he can be even better.”
Opposing teams surely will not want that, especially after seeing the impact the attacking midfielder has had in the playoffs. With Altidore nursing a quad injury picked up on the last day of the campaign, Pozuelo has moved out of his usual No. 10 role to serve as the spearhead of the attack.
The 5-foot-7 veteran has done a solid job playing out of position, too, especially in his two-goal performance in the 2-1 victory over New York City FC in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
“I’ve had to play a bit as a false nine, which is a position I like to play because I feel a bit free,” said Pozuelo in Spanish. “I can move more or less where I want in it, but we all know Jozy is very important and has other, very different qualities that also help us out a lot.
“If he’s not there on Sunday, then I’ll do everything as well as I can so the team can benefit from it.”
If Pozuelo can replicate the type of impact he has had in the postseason matches to date, Toronto FC will stand a decent chance of winning a second MLS Cup in three years, a title that would reward Pozuelo’s decision to make the move to MLS, and take on the challenge of replacing a player like Giovinco.
“I didn’t think twice about coming here after the first day I met with the club and especially with (general manager Ali Curtis) in Belgium,” said Pozuelo. “Once I got here, our expectations started to get met. Thankfully in three days we have a final, which is what the club wanted.”
I expect the Sounders will key on him like they did with Vela, he will float around too like Vela did, if he plays the false 9. Leaving the young wings to win it, especially with no Alitidore to center to.