Alejandro Pozuelo joined some select Toronto FC company Monday when he was named to the 2019 Major League Soccer Best XI.
The Spanish playmaker is the fifth TFC player to be accorded the honour, alongside Dwayne De Rosario (2009, 2010), Sebastian Giovinco (2015, 2016, 2017), Justin Morrow (2017) and Victor Vazquez (2017).
The 28-year-old Pozuelo, signed March 4 to help fill the attacking void left by the off-season departure of Giovinco and Vazquez, opened his MLS account with a bang March 29 when he scored two spectacular goals and added an assist in a 4-0 win over New York City FC.
"He had this immediate impact and he’s only gotten better," said Toronto GM Ali Curtis.
Pozuelo led Toronto in both goals (12) and assists (12) in 30 regular-season games.
He started for the MLS all-stars against Spain’s Atletico Madrid in July, was named MLS player of the week for Week 8 and made the MLS Team of the Week five times.
Pozuelo can create goals or score them, showing off audacious chips and cheeky penalties straight down the middle. Off the field, Toronto’s marquee man is unassuming with no airs.
He has two goals and an assist in two playoff games so far. Pozuelo and Toronto face defending champion Atlanta United on Wednesday in the Eastern Conference final at the Mercedes-Benz Dome.
With star striker Jozy Altidore still working his way back from a quad injury that has kept him out of the playoffs, Pozuelo could find himself starting up front again Wednesday.
Coach Greg Vanney said Monday that Altidore would be a game-time decision. He said the same before the Oct. 23 semifinal against NYCFC with Altidore ultimately not dressing.
"It’s day to day, follow the program and see where we’re at come Wednesday," Vanney told reporters in Toronto before the team left for Atlanta.
Altidore, who was injured in the regular-season finale Oct. 6, has yet to test his leg by shooting the ball.
With a salary of US$3.8 million this season, the TFC designated player ranks seventh on the MLS salary list according to the MLS Players Association. It’s money well spent given Toronto is 12-2-4 in matches where Pozuelo has scored or registered an assist.
Pozuelo learned of his Best XI selection on the practice field when his young son, with a club camera filming, handed him a hand-drawn note with the news.
"Is this true? Really? Seriously," Pozuelo asked.
Assured it was, he picked his son up for a hug. "This is so nice, give me a kiss," he said in Spanish.
Pozuelo came from Belgium’s KRC Genk. He has also played in England with Swansea and Real Betis and Rayo Vallecano de Madrid in Spain.
Pozuelo joins a Best XI long on offence with Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the Los Angeles Galaxy, Josef Martinez of Atlanta and Carlos Vela of Los Angeles FC up front. The three forwards are finalists for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP, combing for 91 goals during the regular season.
The midfield features Pozuelo, NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez, LAFC’s Eduard Atuesta and Carles Gil of the New England Revolution. Gil was earlier named the league’s newcomer of the year, with Pozuelo coming in third.
Pozuelo and Gil (10 goals, 14 assists) were two of only four players this season to record double-digit goals and assists.
Vito Mannone is the choice in goal behind a backline of Minnesota teammate Ike Opara, Atlanta’s Miles Robinson and LAFC’s Walker Zimmerman
The Best XI features players from seven MLS clubs and eight countries. There are seven first-time selections, with Ibrahimovic, Martinez, Opara and Vela making repeat appearances.
The Best XI was chosen by media, MLS players and MLS club technical staff.
2019 MLS Best XI
Goalkeeper: Vito Mannone (Minnesota United FC).
Defenders: Ike Opara (Minnesota United FC), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Walker Zimmerman (Los Angeles FC).
Midfielders: Eduard Atuesta (Los Angeles FC), Carles Gil (New England Revolution), Maxi Moralez (New York City FC), Alejandro Pozuelo (Toronto FC).
Forwards: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (L.A. Galaxy), Josef Martinez (Atlanta United), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC).