Spanish midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo set to join Toronto FC in mid-March
Genk's Alejandro Pozuelo, back right, scores the first goal of the game against Malmo during their UEFA Europa League group I soccer match, Malmo FF vs KRC Genk, at Malmo New Stadium in Malmo, Sweden, Thursday Nov. 29, 2019. Toronto FC has confirmed the signing of Spanish midfielder Pozuelo from KRC Genk, saying the new designated player will arrive March 18.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Andreas Hillergren / TT via AP
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, March 4, 2019 5:16PM EST
Toronto FC GM Ali Curtis put in the miles to secure Alejandro Pozuelo, travelling three times to Belgium where the Spanish attacking midfielder captains Belgian league-leader KRC Genk.
Team president Bill Manning also went there, meeting Genk president Peter Croonen twice during a whirlwind trip that saw him leave Toronto at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday and arrive back the next day at 7:45 p.m.
"I spent seven hours in Belgium and 19 hours on the plane," Manning said.
Pozuelo is worth it, both Toronto executives say. TFC fans will have a chance to see for themselves later this month in the wake of news Monday that the Pozuelo transfer was a done deal.
The 27-year-old designated player is due in Toronto on March 18, one day after the end of the Belgian regular season.
Pozuelo has scored 25 goals and added 60 assists in 175 appearances since joining the Belgian league leader in August 2015.
"He's a creative No. 10, kind of a maestro," Curtis said in a conference call.
"Pozuelo, we think, can be a difference-maker in this league and a difference-maker in our environment as well," he added.
Pozuelo is being counted on to help fill the offensive void left by the departure of Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez and Italian striker Sebastian Giovinco.
Like Vazquez, he has the vision and ability to unlock defences. He has the ball skills to evade would-be tacklers and is capable of highlight-reel goals.
The five-foot-seven 140-pounder also played for Real Betis and Rayo Vallecano in Spain and Swansea in the English Premier League.
Curtis talked up Pozuelo's character, calling him a "team-first type of guy."
"He's a good person," he said. "And so we're excited to add another leader into our locker-room and a good human being within the club.
"We're going to be asking a lot of him but we know he can handle it."
For a team trying to offload Dutch international defender Gregory van der Wiel after a bust-up with coach Greg vanney, playing well with others is a TFC requirement these days.
Pozuelo joins veteran defenders Drew Moor and Laurent Ciman as former captains on the Toronto roster under current skipper Michael Bradley.
Pozuelo comes with a four-year contract that takes him through 2022, according to a source. That puts him in line with fellow DP Jozy Altidore, a 29-year-old U.S. international forward who has a new three-year contract extension that also runs through 2022.
Curtis, who has targeted allocation money to spend, said he has not finished his talent hunt.
"We're looking at a number of different positions. Some talks are more advanced than others."
Curtis, who joined TFC in January after Tim Bezbatchenko left to take over Columbus Crew SC, call the process of securing the Spaniard "the most difficult and complicated signing I have ever been a part of and actually have ever seen."
Giovinco's decision to leave Toronto for Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal FC during training camp added to the urgency of the signing.
"I didn't anticipate that Sebastian would be leaving us," said Curtis, forced to hit the ground running.
"At that moment, it was really was 'OK what is Plan 1, B and C?' And in most situations, from my experience, most teams when they lose a player like that, they don't even have a Plan A," he added. "So I really give a lot of credit to our scouting department and other people within the organization that helped us to clear the air on what type of targets we could go after."
A disagreement over when the release clause in Pozuelo's contract kicked in added to the complexity of the deal. It appears the two clubs struck a compromise, with Pozuelo seeing out the regular season in Belgium but missing the playoffs -- with Toronto no doubt sweetening its offer to get him.
Adding to the degree of difficulty was the fact the European transfer window was closing Jan. 31. The MLS window stays open until May 7 but that doesn't help Genk get a replacement.
"He was the best player on the best club in Belgium and they didn't want to let him go for obvious reasons," Curtis said.
Pozuelo, however, saw Toronto and MLS as a "step up," Curtis added.
Given Pozuelo has essentially already played a full season -- including Europa League play -- the Toronto GM said the team will watch his workload closely.
Pozuelo joins Canadian Julian de Guzman, Mista, Danny Koevermans, Torsten Frings, Eric Hassli, Matias Laba, Gilberto, Jerman Defoe, Bradley, Giovinco and Altidore as TFC designated players.
In other MLS news, Seattle's Jordan Morris was named player of the week after his two-goal performance in a 4-1 win over FC Cincinnati. Minnesota's Darwin Quintero was second and Toronto's Bradley third in voting by media and fans.