Atlanta United's Mo Adams, right, challenges Toronto FC's Alejandro Pozuelo during first half MLS soccer action in East Hartford, Conn., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. Toronto FC's Alejandro Pozuelo says he finished the season with an injured leg. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jessica Hill

Toronto FC ready to refocus on future as long, hard season comes to an end

Toronto FC ready to refocus on future as long, hard season comes to an end

One of Toronto FC’s biggest stars isn’t thinking about whether or not he’ll be named the league’s most valuable player this season.

After all, while some other nominees are still fighting for Major League Soccer’s top prize, Alejandro Pozuelo and his teammates are already back home.

“For me, the MVP, it’s not important,” the 29-year-old Spaniard said on a video call Friday. “I feel no good when we lose in the first round (of the playoffs).”

Toronto appeared poised for a long playoff run after finishing the regular-season campaign with a 13-5-5 record, second best in the league.

But the club’s year came to an abrupt end Tuesday when it lost 1-0 in overtime to expansion side Nashville SC in East Hartford, Conn.

Three days later, the result is still “bitter,” and the players feel some guilt because they know they could have gone further, said goalkeeper Quentin Westberg.

“It stays and it sticks and it’s going to be hard to wash off,” he said.

The disappointing finish punctuated a long, hard season that saw Toronto’s players and staff face unprecedented challenges, from injuries and a condensed schedule to months spent on the road and games in empty stadiums.

The uncertainty of 2020 has been difficult for everyone, said midfielder Jonathan Osorio, including professional athletes who saw seasons come to a screeching halt in March as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in North America.

“You’re dealing with a lot of things that happen so quickly but so slowly at the same time,” he said. “It was tough.”

TFC played just one game in front of fans at BMO Field before the hiatus. When play resumed, it was in a bubble near Orlando, Fla., with the MLS is Back tournament, followed by an all-Canadian nine-game series in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Then, in mid-September, border restrictions forced all three Canadian clubs to move south. TFC set up a temporary home in East Hartford.

“You had to have a lot of patience this year, I think. It was tough,” Osorio said. “It was tough to get your body ready for games and then stop for long periods of times and then start again so quickly. An overall tough year for everybody.”

A wave of injuries also impacted Toronto. Star striker Jozy Altidore and veteran defender Justin Morrow both missed time, and captain Michael Bradley was twice sidelined, first by an ankle injury and then by a knee sprain.

Going through surgery, rehab and training was difficult, Bradley said.

“It’s a frustrating year from a personal standpoint,” said the 33-year-old midfielder. “It was a crazy year. That’s not meant in any way to be an excuse. It’s just reality.”

Pozuelo revealed Friday that he, too, had dealt with a leg injury through the final two or three weeks of the season. He did not detail the nature of the injury but said he and the club kept it quiet because he wanted to continue playing.

“This is no excuse,” he said. “I play a lot of games because I want to play. And I feel good (to) play.”

Pozuelo saw action in all 23 of Toronto’s regular-season games, and was on the field for the full 120 minutes of Tuesday’s playoff loss.

He led TFC in scoring with nine goals and 10 assists, and was tied with two other players for most assists in MLS through the regular season.

The MLS pandemic-condensed schedule, which saw most teams play two games a week, was hard on the athletes’ bodies, Pozuelo said.

“In football, I learned that we cannot play every three or four days because we kill the players,” he said. “It’s difficult. It’s difficult to play every two, three, four days.”

Now that the season has ended, Bradley is looking forward to training consistently and pushing himself physically. He said the off-season will be the first time all year that he’s been able to work out for more than four or five weeks in a row.

“I feel good. I feel strong,” he said.

The prospect of an indefinite off-season kept TFC centre back Omar Gonzalez up Thursday night. It’s hard to know how to prepare when you don’t know when you’ll play your next game, he explained.

“We have to be ready to fight for another trophy at the beginning of the year, whenever it comes,” he said. “So we have to be ready. I want to be ready for my teammates, for my team.”

After everything the club went through in 2020, being ousted from the playoffs in the first round hurts, Gonzalez said, particularly because TFC is a club that sets its standards high.

But he hopes the season of adversity will hold some lessons moving forward.

“It’s definitely a year that we’ll look back on and take a lot from,” Gonzalez said. “Because I think we have a lot of strong people on this team. And I think there’ll be a lot of growth from this year.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2020.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

soccer

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta identifies 573 new COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths on Saturday

There are currently 9,727 active cases of the virus in the province

A firetruck sits in front of a home on Harvey Close in Red Deer Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Firefighters respond to Red Deer fire

Red Deer firefighters responded to a blaze in the north part of… Continue reading

(Courtesy photo)
Red Deer rental prices drop slightly

Renting an apartment in Red Deer became slightly cheaper last month. Rentals.ca… Continue reading

Rylee Trippel was last seen Friday. (Photo contributed by RCMP)
Red Deer RCMP looking for missing teen

Police are looking for a teen who was last seen in the… Continue reading

The Red Deer Outreach Centre’s Adopt a Family program raised $60,000 in 2020. (Photo courtesy Red Deer Outreach Centre’s Facebook)
Red Deer Outreach Centre’s Adopt a Family program raised $60K in 2020

The executive director of the Red Deer Outreach Centre says she is… Continue reading

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

RCMP say missing teen Hope Tivendale has been found. (File photo by Advocate staff)
No foul play suspected after burned body of homeless person found in North Vancouver

VANCOUVER — A burned body, believed to be of a homeless person,… Continue reading

The central zone experienced a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases Thursday, rising from 454 to 508 active cases over the past 24 hours, with 10 people in hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Spartan Bioscience says Health Canada has approved its rapid COVID-19 test

TORONTO — An Ottawa company says it’s received approval from Health Canada… Continue reading

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole defends decision to back, then oust, Sloan

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he was once willing to… Continue reading

Quebec Premier Francois Legault pauses as he speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Non-essential travel ban would violate Constitution but courts might allow it: expert

MONTREAL — Fear that Quebecers will catch a new variant of COVID-19… Continue reading

A woman walks outside the Roberta Place Long Term Care home in Barrie, Ont. on Monday, January 18, 2021. The devastating toll of COVID-19 on long-term care residents in Canada has underscored the need for increased public funding for home care, advocates say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
COVID-19 deaths in long-term care reveal need for home supports: advocates

VANCOUVER — The devastating toll of COVID-19 on long-term care residents in… Continue reading

A Chinese flag is illuminated by sunshine in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, September 22, 2016. China is threatening retaliation against Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned a new security law giving Beijing more control over Hong Kong.. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Diplomats contact Canadian held for over 2 years in China

BEIJING — Canadian officials have met online with former diplomat Michael Kovrig,… Continue reading

Marc Gold (centre) stands with senators André Pratte (left) and Peter Harder before being sworn in during a ceremony in the Senate on Parliament Hill, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Senator urges study of vexing barriers to using secret information in court cases

OTTAWA — A Senate committee should examine the hurdles that make it… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Winnipeg ticket holder wins Friday night’s $60 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — A ticket holder from Winnipeg won Friday night’s whopping $60… Continue reading

Most Read