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Toronto FC, Alejandro Pozuelo expecting an even better sophomore year after full offseason

TORONTO – It has been quite the season for Alejandro Pozuelo.

Having been initially welcomed to Toronto in the drab March grey, the Spanish midfielder returned from November’s MLS Cup Final to a blanket of fresh white snow.

“I like it. I like to see the city like this, it’s amazing,” smiled Pozuelo, a native of Sevilla, as he sat down for his end of season media appearance. “It’s cold, but it’s good to see. And my kids also, they like.”

Signed as designated player, Pozuelo wrapped up his first season in MLS with impressive numbers: 12 goals and 12 assists in 30 regular season appearances and two goals and three assists through four playoff matches.

It was a campaign that both confirmed what he was told and bodes well for the future.

“I learned a lot,” said Pozuelo. “Before I came here, Victor [Vazquez] told me, ‘Don’t come thinking it’s an easy league, [that] it will be too easy.’”

“It’s true,” he continued of the old adage. “All the games, if you don’t go 100% to win, [anybody] can win. Every team can win. This I like in this league.”

Acquired from Belgian club KRC Genk, this season was particularly long for Pozuelo, who hasn’t had a full rest since Europa League Qualifying began at the end of July 2018.

A 78-game long season wore on the player, though he found adaptations to help him through.

“When I came here, first game, really excited,” recalled Pozuelo, who scored a memorable brace that night against NYCFC. “In the summer start to feel more in my legs, more tired. I need to have more time for recovery after the games. I tried to change some different things – to training, to food. In the playoffs, I felt more relaxed, better. Next year, play only ~30 games in the regular season, will be perfect.”

Considering the kilometres he put in, his output, nevermind an MLS All-Star selection, inclusion in the Best XI, and a nomination for Newcomer of the Year, was outstanding.

With only the standard burden on the docket for 2020, Pozuelo thinks the knowledge garnered from this season and the rest from a proper offseason will do wonders.

“Now I know the league, know the other teams,” said Pozuelo. “Holiday in my legs and my head also. Next year will be better.”

As the team continued their evolution over the course of the season, Pozuelo featured in several positions, both as a forward and in the midfield.

Just how he fits into Greg Vanney’s calculations going forward will be percolating in the laboratory through the winter.

“I like to play 10 – my best position,” restated Pozuelo. “When I came, my first game, I played there. I feel more comfortable in the game. Sometimes [I played] other positions or different situations in some games – I tried to play winger or more like an 8.”

“I like to play 10 – the club knows,” he added. “This is my best position, I can give more quality and more [of myself] in this position.”

Toronto were at their best late in the season when the midfield trio of Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, and Marky Delgado was reunited to patrol the middle of the park, which meant Pozuelo was placed out wide or up top, in the absence of Jozy Altidore, as a false 9.

Finding a way to get all his best pieces on the pitch at the same time is the task confronting Vanney. He believes there is a way.

“It comes down to collective work; within [that] every individual has to do their piece,” summed up Vanney. “For Ale, continue to do what he does and commit to the team’s work defensively. He’s capable of doing that, after a little bit of rest and an offseason. Approaching a new season he’ll have legs that are much different than when he was approaching 60 games.”

“A shared, combined commitment defensively starting from the striker to the back-four,” stressed Vanney. “It can be done.”

His partnership with Jozy Altidore will be particularly key.

“I hope we can find a place where he’s comfortable on the field and he can do what he’s been doing,” said Altidore. “He produces. He’s a very talented, he loves it here.”

“And he can use a rest too,” smiled the striker. “He’s played a lot of games. It will be good to get him some rest.”

It has been a long season.

Fittingly Pozuelo bookended his goal-scoring exploits with another brace against NYCFC, this time in the Eastern Conference Semifinal, once more beating Sean Johnson from the penalty spot with a cheeky Panenka.

In his post-match interview on TSN, still revved from the final whistle, Pozuelo added a new element to the club’s lore. It was a moment that deserved to be immortalized in a T-shirt.

The supporters duly stepped forward and Pozuelo was presented with his on Wednesday, both for the rest of the family, and for next season, he wants more.

“Great,” summed up Pozuelo of his first year in Toronto. “When I came here, I feel like the players, the staff support me. This is very important for me and for my family. I feel good – with the players, the staff, the coach, with Ali [Curtis], with the president, Bill Manning. All around is perfect.”

“This year was great – Best XI, All-Star, nominated for Best Newcomer,” he added. “Next year the same, but we need to win the cup.”