TORONTO—It’s not as though Jozy Altidore has had a poor debut season with Toronto FC, because he hasn’t—not by any stretch of the imagination.
The American forward has scored 10 goals in 22 games (18 as a starter) for the Reds during the 2015 MLS campaign, good enough to rank second in team scoring behind Sebastian Giovinco.
Altidore, 25, has had to deal with injury problems, and U.S. international call-ups along the way. He was also suspended for one game, so in light of some of the issues he’s faced, 10 goals is a pretty good haul.
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Still, there is a sense that Altidore should be producing more for TFC, that he has under-achieved, to a certain degree.
It hasn’t helped matters that coach Greg Vanney has experimented with Altidore in recent weeks, deploying the powerful forward as a right midfielder where he had to fulfill more defensive duties than if he was playing in his natural position up front. Over the course of the campaign, Altidore has been asked to play different roles as TFC has changed formations.
Vanney’s latest tactical move, shifting Altidore to the right side of midfield, baffled fans and pundits.
“Jozy Altidore is your prototypical target forward; big, strong, good in the air and a good finisher inside the box. I think you want to get him as close to goal as you can, and by playing him in wider positions as we’ve seen lately and asking him to support more defensively is not necessarily playing to his strengths,” TV commentator Paul Dolan wrote in a recent blog for Sportsnet.ca.
“Playing in different positions has not helped Altidore’s cause as Vanney tries to find the right formation and team lineup to have his best players helping where they are most needed.”
While he openly admits his preference is to play up top, Altidore, to his great credit, has accepted playing out of position with good grace. He also knows that Giovinco is the focal point of TFC’s attack, and if he has to take a lesser role in order to accommodate the Italian, he insists he’s fine with that.
“Within a team you have to find a way to try and contribute. In our team, the way we play, our catalyst is Seba. Obviously one person doesn’t make the team but I think we all have to buy into the fact that when we can get the best out of him we can get the best out of our team. That’s why he’s shown, for me, he’s the MVP. For me, for everybody, we concentrate on that,” Altidore explained.
Regardless of where he plays or however he’s deployed by TFC, Altidore is keen to contribute in any way he can. He gets the “team” concept.
“Whatever position or role you’re in, you have to buy into that and make sure you give something to the team. If not, you don’t understand the concept about being (part of) something bigger than yourself,” Altidore said.
The idea of a Giovinco-Altidore partnership looked promising early on, especially after the Italian set up his American teammate with a great pass in Toronto’s win over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the opening game of the season.
Since then, the two haven’t been able to forge “a strong playing relationship on the pitch,” according to Dolan.
It’s an assessment with which Vanney agrees, and maybe that’s why TFC’s coach shifted Altidore back to the forward position in this past weekend’s 3-1 home win over the Colorado Rapids.
“I think it’s better. It’s better in that they’re closer together. Jozy is natural a forward; that’s what he is. It’s good when they combined a little bit more. I think we can still push them to find each other some more at times,” Vaney explained.
“It’s a balance between the team and the team defending effort, plus the team and the attacking effort and making sure we’re a good balanced unit on both sides of the ball. When they’re close to each anther and they’re building attacks … we’re a dangerous team, and that was proven over the course of (last) weekend.”
With five matches left in the regular season (four a home), Toronto sits fifth in the Eastern Conference and looks poised to finally clinch its first playoff berth in franchise history. Altidore won a Dutch Cup title during his time playing with AZ Alkmaar, so the pressure of a tight playoff race in MLS doesn’t intimidate him—quite the opposite, actually.
“It’s exciting. Everybody starts to look around and understand its getting real now. There’s something to play for—there’s a trophy at the end of this. I’ve been lucky; I’ve won a trophy. It’s an amazing feeling. I hope we can experience that all together here,” Altidore offered.