TORONTO — Alejandro Pozuelo dazzled in his MLS debut with two eye-popping goals and an assist last week. The question now is what can the Spanish playmaker do for an encore?
The Toronto FC attacking midfielder, who had never before scored two goals in a game, has raised his own bar.
"One of my best games of my career," the 27-year-old Pozuelo said in his still developing English. "I need to continue. I want to try the same. But the most important (thing) is to help the team. If I score, if I don't score, for me it's not a problem. I want more that the team win the game and I try to help."
Off to its best league start ever, Toronto (3-0-0) looks to keep rolling Saturday against the visiting Chicago Fire (1-2-1).
Toronto coach Greg Vanney is more interested in his team's "collective performance" than whether Pozuelo can recreate his heroics. But a repeat performance would seem against the odds.
"People don't score like that every single week. You see one of those goals once a blue moon," Vanney said of Pozuelo's work last week, which included a Panenka penalty and audacious chipped goal.
And they don't do it in their league debut.
Pozuelo is the 17th player in MLS history to score two goals in his first game (no player has ever scored a hat trick on debut). The last to do it was Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the Los Angeles Galaxy (March 31, 2018).
Pozuelo is just the third player to score a pair of goals and add an assist in his debut. He joins Brian McBride (Columbus Crew, April 13, 1996) and Fredy Montero (Seattle Sounders, March 19, 2009), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Opposing teams will be looking for ways to shut Pozuelo down. Man-marking is one option, albeit a difficult one given he ranges around the field.
Some teams have already tried to man-mark captain Michael Bradley because he often serves as the launching pad for the Toronto attack. And burly forward Jozy Altidore is a handful in his own right.
It's a soccer version of Whac-A-Mole. Stop one player and someone else pops up.
Toronto offence remains rampant at this early stage of the season. With 10 goals in three games, it leads the league at 3.33 goals a game.
Vanney also praised Altidore and Pozuelo for their defensive work, harrying defenders last time out in the 4-0 win over New York City FC.
Chicago is coming off a 1-0 win over the visiting New York Red Bulls by virtue of a 48th-minute Tim Parker own goal. The Fire previously lost to the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle and tied Orlando City.
German star Bastian Schweinsteiger, playing in central defence, and midfielder Dax McCarty both made the most recent MLS team of the week. (Pozuelo and two former TFC players — Seattle 'keeper Stefan Frei and Vancouver defender Doneil Henry — were also honoured).
Vanney expects Chicago to lay back.
"I think they'll try to protect themselves a little bit and look for their opportunities in transition," he said.
Argentine midfielder Nicolas Gaitan, who made his Chicago debut off the bench against the Red Bulls, adds to the Fire offence.
"He's a clever player," said Vanney.
Pozuelo, who wasted little time settling in on the field, says his life is coming together off the pitch. He has found an apartment downtown and his wife and two kids are expected to arrive Sunday.
"The people have been very welcoming and kind," he said of Toronto.
CHICAGO FIRE (1-2-1) AT TORONTO FC (3-0-0)
Saturday, BMO Field.
KEY QUESTION: What does Alejandro Pozuelo do for an encore?
FORM CHECK: Toronto is undefeated in its last nine games against Chicago (8-0-1), dating back to Sept. 26, 2015.
THE BOY FROM BRAZIL: Toronto fullback/wingback Auro is questionable with soreness in his semitendinosus muscle, located in the high hamstring area.
NO HOMECOMING: Former TFC defender Raheem Edwards is expected to be out four to six weeks with a lateral collateral ligament sprain. Polish international midfielder Przemyslaw Frankowski (groin), German forward Fabian Herbers (groin), Cuban defender Jorge Corrales (groin) are also listed as unavailable for Chicago. Forward C.J. Sapong is questionable (illness).
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press