TORONTO – The 2019 MLS All-Star Week is underway in Orlando, Florida.
Two Toronto FC Players, Alejandro Pozuelo and Noble Okello, will be involved in the festivities – Pozuelo in the All-Star Game presented by Target itself and Okello in the Homegrown Game presented by Energizer.
The homegrown match against Chivas de Guadalajara's U-20 side was played on Tuesday night with the MLS Homegrowns emerging victorious. Okello came on at half-time and scored the 94th minute equalizer that sent the sides to penalty kicks following a 2-2 draw. Okello was named MVP for his contribution.
The Homegrowns would take the shootout 3-0 courtesy some heroics from goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski. And the hometown trio from Orlando City SC took the first-ever skills competition later in the evening.
The all-star game sees MLS square off against Spanish side Atletico Madrid on Wednesday night at 8 pm.
“I'm very happy to go, to play with Zlatan [Ibrahimovic], [Wayne] Rooney, Carlos Vela,” said Pozuelo.
“It's nice. This game is very special and also for me because we play [a Spanish] team,” he added. “It will be special to play against Atletico Madrid.”
Pozuelo was selected to the squad by Orlando City SC coach James O'Connor who will the MLS All-Stars in his home stadium. The midfielder burst onto the scene in his debut on March 29, scoring twice against NYCFC including a stunning chip in a 4-0 win.
In 19 appearances this season since arriving from KRC Genk as a designated player, Pozuelo has nine goals and nine assists for TFC.
“He's shown some of the flare and panache that he has, the types of goals he's capable of scoring,” said Greg Vanney. “People took notice. He's got the respect of people in the league; because of that he's been named an all-star.”
“For us, it's another game. For him, it's a good experience. He'll enjoy it,” continued Vanney. “It's always nice for a guy who comes from overseas and hasn't been here for very long to see what that is like because it's unique to any league in the world.”
“And they're playing a Spanish team,” added the coach. “When I told him he seemed honoured and delighted by the recognition and excited to go.”
“We're going to wrap him up in band-aids though,” joked Vanney. “Just to make sure.”
Okello will look to build on the fine tradition of TFC at the Homegrown Game, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Liam Fraser, who scored in last year's 1-1 with Tigres UANL U-20s side.
“He said it was a great opportunity, a great event. He liked it a lot,” relayed Okello of Fraser's experience. “He told me to take and learn from other players, but also show what I can do, go and make a name for myself.”
Fraser, Jay Chapman, Jordan Hamilton, and Ashtone Morgan have all represented TFC at what is fast becoming a summer tradition for the league's up-and-coming talent.
Recently returned from the 2019 Gold Cup with Canada, Okello is used to carrying the banner for TFC.
“I feel good representing the club,” said Okello. “I look forward to it, to getting my opportunity to show what young players at TFC can bring to the league.”
That experience with John Herdman's side was good for the recently turned 19-year-old.
“I took it with open arms,” explained Okello. “You don't get that opportunity at such a young age to play with and learn from such great players. I look forward to the next Gold Cup. We didn't get the results that we wanted, but it was good for me to learn.”
Yet to make his first team debut, Okello has made 12 appearances for Toronto FC II in USL League One this season. He is eager for his time to come.
“I can't wait, just waiting for my opportunity,” said Okello. “I need to work hard and get better, but I'm itching. If the opportunity comes, it comes. I'm just focusing on getting better and learning every day. I'm not worried. I know it's going to come, sooner or later.”