TORONTO — It may be looking for a silver lining, but Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney says Alejandro Pozuelo missing Sunday's visit by the San Jose Earthquakes may not be such a bad thing.
The Spanish playmaker, suspended in the wake of two ill-tempered yellows cards in the 3-0 weekend loss at Salt Lake City, has not had a break since coming to MLS in March straight from his season in Belgium.
"He'll never admit it because players love to play and they want to play all the time and they want to help their teams but I do think — and I talked to him about it — this is a good week for him to be able to kind of catch his breath a little bit," said Vanney.
"He came (here), he came fast, obviously had an incredible start to the whole thing, which then ramps up the attention and everything else on your arrival. No matter who it is, everybody goes through a stretch too where you have to adapt to the league and you start to learn the refereeing, you start to learn the physicality, you have to get to know your teammates. And you realize the travel of the league is tough. There's different facets that everybody goes through."
Not to mention settling your family in a new home.
"He's got a good sample size of what the league is about and everything," Vanney added. "And now we hopefully can help him get his legs back under him. Again, he'll never admit that."
Pozuelo has five goals and six assists in 10 games, despite the injury absence of star striker Jozy Altidore, who has played just 53 minutes in two stints off the bench over the last six game due to hamstring and heel issues.
Pozuelo has taken his lumps from defenders in recent weeks and that frustration seemed to boil over against Real Salt Lake.
"It's not good that he got a red card but I think it shows the edge that he has," said Vanney. "I think all great players have an edge. I don't know if we had seen it 'til that point ... There's an edge in there that will serve us well in big moments down the road."
For his part, Pozuelo apologized via social media after the sending-off.
"Sometimes in-game adrenalin leads you to make the wrong decisions," he wrote.
"But I must learn from these mistakes and grow as a player. It is time to keep fighting so that we can give to the fans the joy that they deserve."
Having Altidore back on the field will help take some of the opposition's focus off Pozuelo, he added.
Altidore is deemed fully healthy now. And defenders Laurent Ciman and Chris Mavinga were back at training Wednesday after missing the weekend game through injury.
The injury news isn't as good for young striker Ayo Akinola, who has returned from the U.S. under-20 camp because of injury. The 19-year-old, who tweaked his ankle in Toronto's May 8 game in Atlanta, had been slated to go to the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland.
Vanney understands Akinola's pain, having missed out on the 2002 World Cup after injuring his knee in a friendly against Jamaica just days before the U.S. team was slated to leave.
Toronto's schedule calms down now after a 15-day, five-game stretch. Toronto (5-5-2) opened that run with a 2-0 win in Orlando but is winless in the four games since (0-3-1) during which it has been outscored 7-1 and shut out three times.
Akinola has been replaced by L.A. Galaxy defender Julian Araujo.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press