TORONTO – Jozy Altidore is still dealing with a nagging ankle injury, and hasn’t yet participated in a full training session since last week.
But the Toronto FC forward, who took part in portions of Tuesday’s practice with his teammates, left no doubts as to whether he’ll play in Saturday’s MLS Cup final against the Seattle Sounders at BMO Field.
“It was good. I got to take part in the warm up and see how I was feeling. I felt OK,” Altidore said during a Tuesday afternoon conference call
“Obviously, it won’t be perfect, but like I said on Wednesday night, it’s a big game, a one-off, and with everything we put into this season, I’m going to put every right foot forward I can to make sure I’m in the team and playing that game.”
Altidore scored the winning goal last Wednesday in the second leg of the Eastern Conference final against the Columbus Crew at BMO Field. Early in the second half, the TFC star was accidentally clattered into from behind by Crew defender Harrison Afful. Altidore ended up fighting through the pain, and came back onto the field to score the winner after having his ankle taped up on the sidelines. He was eventually subbed out of the game.
Tuesday marked the first time Altidore trained with his teammates since suffering the injury. He is making good progress in his recovery, according to coach Greg Vanney, and the plan is to increase the intensity of his training regime each day ahead of Saturday’s contest.
“Obviously, it’s a few days away so we’re just increasing the test for him to see how he feels each day. Positive signs today, and we’ll take another step forward [on Wednesday],” Vanney told reporters after practice.
“He got through what our expectation was and what we wanted. He felt great. Tomorrow we’ll take it up a little bit more and we’ll keep building until we get to Saturday.”
Vanney and his staff have had regular discussions with Altidore during this recovery process as they’ve monitored his progress. TFC’s coach asserts that his star striker is not wallowing in self-pity, but rather staying mentally strong as he fights through this injury setback.
“For him, it’s not even a discussion – he will be there Saturday, and he will be there 100 per cent, and laying it all out there. His head is in a good place, he’s ready to go. For us, it’s just getting to the best point possible given the time and given everything we’re doing, and making sure he’s connected with the group as we move into the weekend,” Vanney said.
Altidore is coming off of a solid 2017 regular season in which he finished second in scoring for the Reds with 15 goals, just behind fellow forward Sebastian Giovinco (16 goals). Altidore also scored a team-high five game-winning goals during the campaign before scoring last week’s decisive strike against Columbus, his first goal in three appearances this post-season.
Seattle conceded only 39 goals during the 34-game regular season, good enough for the third-best defensive record in MLS. Toronto ranked second with 37 goals.
The Sounders have maintained their strong defensive form in the playoffs, recording shutouts in each of their four games. In fact, Seattle has kept a clean sheet in its last six games dating back to the regular season, and hasn’t given up a goal in its previous six playoff matches, a streak of 647 consecutive minutes that dates back to last year’s second leg of the Western Conference final against the Colorado Rapids.
Altidore has 38 goals in 75 regular season games during his three seasons in Toronto, and scored five goals in the playoffs during the team’s run to the MLS Cup final a year ago. With that in mind, and in light of Seattle’ defensive prowess, you can understand why the Reds want Altidore in the lineup on Saturday.
“I would love to try to make a difference. I think every player would love to make a difference,” Altidore said. “It’s a final. Every player goes to bed dreaming about a final and dreaming about yourself making the difference.”
“For me, though, it doesn’t matter. Obviously it would be great to score in a final but, at this point, it doesn’t matter how we win. What matters is that we win. I don’t care of its me or [Sebastian Giovinco] or [defender] Drew Moor. It doesn’t matter to me. All that matters is that we give everything we have, put everything into it and try to become champions.”
Seattle leads the all-time series against Toronto, winning seven of 12 regular season games with two draws. TFC won the only meeting between the sides this year, earning a 1-0 win at CenturyLink Field on May 6. Altidore converted from the penalty spot.
Of course, Seattle won its only playoff game against Toronto, hoisting the MLS Cup trophy after beating the Reds in a shootout in last year’s championship final at BMO Field.