Toronto FC newcomer Pablo Piatti finally ready for his MLS close-up

TORONTO — Some five months after signing as a designated player for Toronto FC, Pablo Piatti is finally going to get his MLS close-up.

Sidelined by injury in pre-season and then the global pandemic, the 31-year-old Argentine winger has been somewhat of a mystery man. A conference call Tuesday was his first interaction with local reporters since his signing was announced Feb. 7 on a free transfer from Spain's Espanyol.

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For fans wondering what kind of player Piatti is, the Argentine says just watch me.

"Everything that they need to know, they will be seeing very soon, hopefully," he said through an interpreter. "I'm a very extrovert person that likes to be out there trying to help the team the best way I can because I consider myself a person who has a winning mentality and I like to reach objectives and goals.

"I think with the team we have and with the mentality I have, we can accomplish great things with this team."

Piatti and Toronto FC leave Friday for Florida and the MLS is Back Tournament, which runs July 8 to Aug. 11 at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in the Orlando area. Toronto opens July 10 against D.C. United.

Piatti, nursing a strained hamstring, and captain Michael Bradley, who was recovering from January ankle surgery, were the two players allowed in the team's north Toronto training centre to undergo daily rehab during the lockdown.

Piatti underwent anterior cruciate ligament surgery in February 2019 while with Barcelona-based Espanyol. He returned from the surgery in late September but was soon sidelined again by a muscle injury, with Toronto team president Bill Manning saying one of his doctors believes Piatti came back too early.

Toronto put the five-foot-four 139-pound Piatti through extensive tests involving medical experts from the Raptors, Maple Leafs and Blue Jays before signing him. And it has handled the Argentine with kid gloves ever since.

Piatti has played just seven games since the surgery, none since arriving with Toronto.

The hamstring issue kept him out of pre-season and the two regular-season games Toronto was able to play before the league suspended play on March 12.

Piatti said while the injury was not serious, Toronto just wanted to take things slowly. He said he has used the time off to work on his health and fitness.

"I took advantage of the extra hours that I had to work on it. And I'm really happy with the level I am right now."

He praised the Toronto franchise for its quality and organization on and off the field.

"Not only on the sports side but also making sure that we're good as a family," he said. "Something that I'm very thankful for."

Piatti said the pandemic has drawn he, wife Nuria and baby daughter Olivia closer together as a family.

"We spent time on things we don't normally have time to spend on," he said.

Piatti is no stranger to Toronto. He was part of the talent-rich Argentina team that won the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada , defeating Chile in the semifinal and the Czech Republic in the final, both at BMO Field.

He has since earned one cap for the senior Argentina team.

Each MLS club will play three group games at the Orlando tournament with the results counting in the standings. Sixteen of the 25 teams will advance to the knockout rounds.

"It's going to be hard to leave my family behind but it's a part of my job," Piatti said.

Piatti joins Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo and U.S. international striker Jozy Altidore as Toronto's designated players. Bradley signed a new deal in December involving targeted allocation money.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2020.

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