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Alejandro Pozuelo’s stunning debut keeps Toronto FC’s perfect start intact

Mar 29, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto FC forward Alejandro Pozuelo (center black jacket) celebrates a win over New York City FC by banging on a fan's drum at BMO Field. Toronto defeated New York. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

TORONTO — The Alejandro Pozuelo show has arrived at BMO Field.

Toronto FC’s new signing looked every bit the top playmaker he has been billed during his MLS debut Friday night, scoring two goals and assisting the other as the Reds (3-0-0) won 4-0 against New York City FC (0-1-3) to keep their undefeated record intact.

“Today is a dream,” Pozuelo said. “I didn’t think it was possible to start like this. I’m happy because the players, the coach, the president, Ali (Curtis, general manager), they helped me a lot.

“My teammates are amazing. The players help me a lot from the first training. This (makes it) more easy to play, so I want to say thank you to my team.”

Jozy Altidore tapped the ball into an empty net from a Pozuelo pass to open the scoring after 29 minutes. Another 29 later, Pozuelo fooled NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson with a Panenka after Altidore had been pulled down in the box by Alexander Callens.

Then came the Spaniard’s final flourish — a ludicrous chip out of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s book that Johnson could not claw out of the top corner.

“That was outrageous, man,” Altidore said. “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 the skill and technique. It was something to see.”

“He reminds me of (Andrés) Iniesta, actually,” added midfielder Jonathan Osorio. “The way he moves side to side, his quickness, it’s a little bit of Iniesta. The thing about Pozuelo is you don’t know which foot he is. It’s amazing — he’s the same with both.”

Jay Chapman — whose introduction for Pozuelo brought the stadium to its feet in appreciation of perhaps the best debut by a man in red it has ever witnessed — fired in a fourth late on.

It has taken some time to bring Pozuelo to Toronto, which began its pursuit of the midfielder in January. TFC became embroiled in a protracted set of negotiations and allowed Pozuelo to finish the Belgian regular season with his former club Genk — and Vanney did not feel like waiting another week to introduce his new designated player. He started alongside Altidore in what was a 4-4-2 formation when TFC did not have the ball, but became a lot more fluid when they did.

Pozuelo coughed the ball up in his own half on a couple of occasions as he got to grips with his new surroundings, but the growing pains did not last long. A threaded through ball from which Altidore drew a good Johnson save was a sign of things to come.

NYCFC did not lack possession but Johnson was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers as Pozuelo pulled the strings. After a Justin Morrow deflected shot found the net, only to be waved off by the video assistant referee for an offside call, Pozuelo and Osorio combined to dance through several defenders before the new signing presented Altidore with a simple finish.

Domènec Torrent’s team showed some spark early in the second half and TFC rode its luck when Jesús Medina’s left-footed effort hit the post before Alex Bono, who otherwise had little to do, blocked Alexandru Mitrita’s swipe at the rebound.

The hosts quickly took back control thereafter, with Callens saving a goal when he blocked Altidore’s shot from close range after more good work from Pozuelo and Osorio down the left. When Pozuelo’s delicate cross over Callens’ head threatened to find Altidore again, though, the centerback grabbed his opponent’s shirt and was spotted by the VAR.

Toronto has a terrible record from the penalty spot, but Pozuelo had the confidence to dink the ball straight over Johnson’s dive.

By that point, Pozuelo had done more than enough to persuade his new fans he is worth his hefty salary. But just to make sure, he took another pass from Osorio in his stride, spotted Johnson challenging him a few yards off his line and lobbed the ball over his head.

Pozuelo exited in the 79th minute with four shots and five chances created to his name. Chapman subbed on and finished with aplomb after Auro navigated his way toward the penalty area before slipping a pass into the Canadian’s path.

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