March 30, 2019 8:44 am

Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo shines in his Toronto FC debut

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Two eye-popping goals, a gorgeous assist and a marvellous first impression.

Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo had a remarkable debut for Toronto FC on Friday night, pulling the strings as advertised in a 4-0 win over New York City FC.

“This night is amazing. I never dreamed this night, so I’m very happy,” Pozuelo said in English.

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The 27-year-old attacking midfielder helped make club history with Toronto winning three straight to open the season for the first time. Toronto has scored 10 goals in three games. Seattle (3-0-0) is the only other MLS team with a perfect record with the Sounders facing Vancouver on Saturday.

New York City FC (0-1-3) had no answers for the Toronto attack and remains in search of a win.

Friday’s game was a coming-out party for Pozuelo, who arrived from Belgium’s KRC Genk. One week after landing in Toronto, he was in the starting lineup. He did not disappoint.

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“The guy’s magic,” said midfielder Jonathan Osorio.

Pozuelo created a beauty of a goal in the 29th minute, dropping deep to start the play near midfield, playing a give-and-go with Osorio before dribbling into the penalty box, evading two defenders and squaring the ball back for Jozy Altidore to knock in.

Pozuelo scored the second from the penalty spot in the 58th minute, beating ‘keeper Sean Johnson down the middle with a cheeky right-footed changeup of a chip. It’s called a Panenka, named after Czech player Antonin Panenka, who pulled it out of his bag of tricks in the 1976 UEFA European Championship final.

Pozuelo peeled away to celebrate after the goal, kissing a tattoo on his right bicep with the name Manolo — his grandfather. Pozuelo confided later that he had told team president Bill Manning before the game that he would go for a Panenka if he had a chance from the penalty spot.

Pozuelo exited in the 79th minute to a standing ovation from a BMO Field crowd of 25,447 still buzzing over his second goal the minute before. The Spaniard paused in the penalty box — as if to ponder his many options — and then casually chipped the ball with his left foot over the six-foot-three Johnson into the far corner of the goal.

“That was outrageous,” said Altidore.

“The level of difficulty to score a goal like that in your debut, that’s 10 out of 10 for me in terms of just balls and skill and technique,” he added. “It was something to see.”

Pozuelo said afterwards he had tried a Panenka before, but the second chip was something new.

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Substitute Jay Chapman added the fourth goal in the 83rd minute, taking a pass from Brazilian fullback Auro and hammering a shot from in-close.

Altidore, in his 100th regular-season start for Toronto, led the offence with the Spaniard and benefited from his playmaking.

“It’s easy to play with good players … I should have scored more,” he said.

Able to befuddle defenders with both feet, Pozuelo proved dangerous everywhere.

“I’m right-footed. But also some time with the left,” he explained.

Coach Greg Vanney, while appreciating Pozuelo’s performance, elected to see the game as a “phenomenal team performance.”

Captain Michael Bradley offered more of the same, praising both Pozuelo and the mentality of the whole team while reminding listeners it’s still early.

“We’re just scratching the surface … Three games don’t make a season. We’re very cognizant of that but we feel good about where we’re going.”

Toronto lost two goals and gained another through video review.

Justin Morrow, taking a fine pass from Bradley, scored in the ninth minute on a shot that deflected in off a NYCFC player. But the goal did not survive video review, with a ruling that winger Nick DeLeon was offside in the buildup.

Pozuelo scored in the 25th minute but he was flagged offside. The Spaniard had helped set up the play, feeding DeLeon and then racing into the penalty box, redirecting DeLeon’s shot in.

The second-half penalty came after video review convinced referee Chris Penso that Alexander Callens hauled Altidore down. The replay showed Callens with a handful of Altidore’s jersey.

Altidore and Callens have history, with the Toronto striker sent off last season for kicking out at the NYCFC player.

Pozuelo roamed around the pitch, occasionally showing early frustration at not getting the ball when he wanted it. He showed his blue-collar side midway through the first half, losing the ball and then tracking back to help retrieve it deep in the Toronto end.

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When the Spaniard got the ball, the entire Toronto attack shifted into high gear. As the night wore on, Pozuelo showed signs of being a highlight-reel moment waiting to happen.

He showed his vision seven minutes in, sliding a pass through the defence to Altidore, whose low shot was pushed away by Johnson.

The Spaniard had more jaws dropping in the 36th minute when, positioned on the sideline, he kicked up a leg to connect with a looping pass from distance from Bradley. Pozuelo knocked the ball to the ground and then, quick as a cobra, flicked it inside to keep it in play.

Toronto had won just one of the nine previous regular-season meetings with NYCFC (1-4-4), with the lone win a 4-0 decision at BMO Field in 2017.

New York coach Domenec Torrent took the blame for Friday’s loss.

“I made a mistake as a coach because maybe I don’t convince my players of the way to play and I didn’t read the game. Sometimes that happens.”

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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