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Alejandro Pozuelo’s actions are speaking louder than his words.
Just over a week ago, after scoring two goals in a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Fire at BMO Field, the star Toronto FC attacking midfielder was asked (for the umpteenth time) if he would be open to negotiating a new contract with TFC, as his current deal expires at the end of the 2022 season. Pozuelo — the 2020 MLS MVP who exploded on to the Toronto sports scene during his first two seasons with the Reds — answered that he was, though neither head coach/sporting director Bob Bradley nor president Bill Manning want to talk “new deal” at this time.
But to his credit, Pozuelo seems intent on forcing the issue. You could see that in the way he played in TFC’s past two games.
First-year TFC coach Bradley challenged Pozuelo before this season to adapt an improved all-round game, offensively and defensively. Now that he’s finally healthy, Pozuelo looks like he’s trying to do that.
After scoring two against Chicago, Pozuelo played his heart out on Saturday night at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton as TFC defeated a gutsy and determined Forge FC side 5-4 on penalties for the 2020 Voyageurs Cup. Pozuelo scored TFC’s goal in regulation time — a screamer into the top left corner of the Forge goal — and added another in the penalty kicks.
On Saturday, Pozuelo led TFC in total scoring attempts (3), total attacking assists (3) and tied Deandre Kerr and Kosi Thompson in tackles won (2). He was the best TFC player.
Now that he’s healthy, he’s leaving all out on the field. He’s trying to show that he’s worth a new deal.
But whether he gets one or not comes down to a number of factors, including how he looks playing alongside Lorenzo Insigne.
The TFC front office wants to put the best team possible around Insigne, who signed a record-setting, four-year deal with the Reds prior the 2022 season (Insigne finished out the Serie A league schedule with Napoli). Insigne joins TFC on July 1 and what Bradley, Manning et al want to see is how Pozuelo and the rest of the team fit with the Italian star.
It’s important the Reds get their DPs and TAM players right as they put a team around Insigne and letting the 2022 season play out is part of that.
If Pozuelo shines alongside Insigne, that obviously bodes well for a contract extension — particularly if he agrees to a non-DP deal. Every MLS team wants to get the maximum from their three DP’s, and Toronto is no exception.
For his part, Pozuelo suggested that money is not his biggest concern at this stage of his career.
“I’m 30 years old. I have my money. I have my life. I don’t need anymore. So I play to enjoy, to play for my family, for my friends,” the Magician said following the win over Chicago. “I don’t need any more (money).”
Perhaps the Seville native would settle for Targeted Allocation Money (a salary cap mechanism established to bring top players into the league without using a DP spot), which was how the Reds re-signed Michael Bradley before the 2020 season after his DP contract expired.
When asked after the Chicago win if would consider a non-DP contract, Pozuelo replied: “We can speak a lot about this but this is not the moment.”
In other words, he’s open to it.
VOYAGEURS CUP A HUGE SHOT IN THE ARM
More than just lifting another trophy, Saturday’s victory in the 2020 Canadian Championship final (delayed two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic) against CPL-side Forge FC was a huge psychological lift for a TFC side that has struggled the past two seasons.
After a disastrous 2021 campaign, the Reds under Bob Bradley have experienced a roller-coaster ride this year, unable to put together an extended period of success largely because it’s a new team continually hammered by the injury bug.
And though Forge FC deserves all the credit in the world for taking Saturday’s match to Toronto, winning a trophy sends a message to the Reds, especially the young players, that they are a team that can accomplish good things this season, particularly after Insigne and some other help arrives this summer.
“It’s not been an easy first part of the season,” team captain Michael Bradley said. “It’s a new team. It’s a young team. We have had challenges thrown our way in a lot of moments. But we’ve kept at it. We’ve not felt sorry for ourselves. We, even in difficult moments, have stuck together and found ways to keep going. That’s going to serve us well.”
Saturday’s win gave TFC its first trophy since 2018 and record eighth Canadian Championship. The Reds have a chance to win a second Voyageurs Cup this year when they face CF Montreal in the 2022 CC semifinal on June 22 at BMO Field with the final to be played in July.
TFC and Forge battled to a 1-1 draw at the end of regulation time with Toronto winning the 2020 Voyageurs Cup on penalty kicks.
Pozuelo scored for TFC and Tristan Borges for Forge in regulation time. Both teams converted four times in the first five penalty kicks. Thompson took the sixth kick for Toronto and converted. Kwasi Poku took Forge’s sixth penalty and left-footed it off the cross-bar, giving Toronto the title.
“I thought it was a great final. I thought both teams went for it and really tried to go after the other and really tried to win the game as opposed to some finals (when) you have two teams that step on the field that don’t want to make mistakes and play not to lose,” Bradley added.