After missing Toronto FC's first 10 games through injury, it appears Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo is finally ready for liftoff this weekend.
The reigning MLS MVP has been sidelined since injuring his thigh in pre-season. Toronto has won just two of 10 games (2-5-3) in all competitions in his absence.
For several weeks now, Toronto coach Chris Armas has said Pozuelo is close to a return and eager to play. It appears that time has finally come, with Toronto (1-3-2 in MLS play) playing at Columbus (2-2-2) on Saturday before the international break.
"He's good. He's available. He's healthy," Armas told reporters Thursday. "We've thought hard about it — when to use him and how to use him. But we're not going to overthink it either.
"We're going to use him in some degree," he added. "Factoring in also that there's three weeks (off) after (Saturday's match). Again we'll be smart, but we also want to be aggressive too. We want to win and we know that he gives us a better chance."
Armas said the team was still working out what role Pozuelo may have Saturday and how long he will play.
Pozuelo, who had nine goals and 10 assists in 23 regular-season games last year, is key to the Toronto attack with his vision and ability to unlock defences with his passing. He led the league in combined goals and assists (19), chances created (70) and game-winning goals (five) last season.
Pozuelo also showed his durability by becoming the first TFC player to start in every regular-season match in a season. He ranked ninth in the league in minutes played (2,015 minutes), missing just 55 minutes of the regular season.
Toronto (13-5-5) went 9-1-4 when Pozuelo scored or had an assist during the 2021 regular season.
Brazilian fullback/midfielder Auro is looking forward to seeing the Spaniard take the field with Venezuelan winger Yeferson Soteldo.
"Things are going to be a bit different because it's easy to play with players that have the level (of talent) that they have," Auro said through an interpreter.
Toronto has other injury concerns, however.
Centre back Omar Gonzalez and midfielder Jonathan Osorio both did not last the full 90 minutes in last weekend's 1-0 loss at Orlando.
Gonzalez, who has played all but nine minutes of the first six league games, came off late in the game after feeling some tightness in his hamstring.
"It's relatively minor but there was a little bit of pain there … We've had to shut him down just for a few days," said Armas, adding a decision had yet to be made on whether the big defender would travel to Columbus.
Osorio has seen just 84 minutes of action in two league games due to a thigh issue.
"He gets himself going then takes a step back. And now with a three-week break coming, although Canada's calling for sure and he's a big part of their national team, we do have to think hard about how to use him," said Armas. "He can give us some minutes but we're not sure we're going to push the envelope there."
The same applies to forward Dom Dwyer, who is dealing with a thigh injury that kept him out of the Orlando game.
"We'll take a cautious approach with Dom," said Armas.
After Saturday's game, Toronto does not play again until a June 19 date with Orlando City.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press