Major League Soccer

Fire-Toronto FC Preview

Alejandro Pozuelo had about a memorable of an MLS debut as Toronto FC fans could've imagined.

The Chicago Fire hope Nicolas Gaitan will soon have a similar impact now that he's had more time to train with his new team.

In a matchup that features two of the biggest transfers to join the league, undefeated Toronto looks to extend the franchise's best start to the season when it hosts Gaitan and a Fire club coming off its first victory.

Pozuelo finally joined Toronto three weeks ago from Belgian club KRC Genk after the transfer deal for the Spanish midfielder began to unfold back in January. His debut was well worth the wait, as Pozuelo scored twice and assisted on another as Toronto defeated New York City FC 4-0 to improve to 3-0-0 for the first time.

"He's a good soccer player, it doesn't take a lot of coaching to put him in," coach Greg Vanney said. "Just give him the structure, the foundation, the opportunity to meet his teammates and allow him to play a bit."

Pozuelo sent the crowd into a frenzy with his second goal in the 78th minute and he was substituted out a minute later, leaving the pitch to a standing ovation.

"It was a magical night," Pozuelo said through a translator. "It will be impossible to forget this night."

Adding to the excitement of Pozuelo's epic debut was the encouraging play of Jozy Altidore, who opened the scoring in the 29th minute off an assist from Pozuelo.

Altidore was making his first start after being sidelined for months by an injured ankle. He came off the bench in the 68th minute to make his season debut in Toronto's previous match and scored the game winner 12 minutes later in a 3-2 win over New England on March 17.

It would've been hard for Gaitan to match Pozuelo's showing when he made his debut last Saturday against the New York Red Bulls, especially considering he just joined the Fire two days earlier.

Gaitan entered in the 63rd minute and helped Chicago (1-2-1) finish off a 1-0 win. The Fire scored in the 48th minute when Nemanja Nikolic's shot crossed the goal line after New York defender Tim Parker accidentally kicked the ball into his own goal while trying to clear it.

"It's important for him to step on the field to see, to learn the atmosphere, to learn our fans and their spirit, to learn the opposition," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said of Gaitan. "I think he saw a very strong team in front of him, so that's a good adjustment for him. I loved those couple of great touches he had and he just shows the class in every play that he's involved."

Gaitan wasn't the only Chicago player to make his MLS debut, as midfielder Jeremiah Gutjahr, a Fire Academy product, got the start in his first appearance. Midfielder Mo Adams also got the start in his first appearance of the season and Paunovic praised his performance.

"I think we saw that when we are all on the same page," Paunovic said, "the 11, the 13 players who played, when we are all on the same page, we are focused and concentrated from the first second until the end of the last, we are capable of doing great things."

Toronto has dominated this series lately, going 8-0-1 in league meetings since September 2015.

Updated April 5, 2019

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