Toronto FC striker Jozy Altidore doesn’t want your pity

Toronto FC’s Jozy Altidore talks about his love for the city of Toronto, whether he thought he could continue in the game and getting back to the MLS final.

TORONTO – Do not feel sorry for Jozy Altidore.

Altidore doesn’t want your pity. You needn’t bother coming to his defence. He is not a helpless victim. He is a grown man. He can take care of himself.

Sports writers are paid to spin narratives. Reporting the facts is the main part of the job, but putting individual performances and team results into a greater context runs a close second. We strive to be storytellers, to hook the reader with a compelling tale.

Sometimes we are guilty of shaping or distorting the facts to suit our narratives. But sometimes things perfectly line up for us, the elements naturally lending themselves to our stories. That certainly seemed to be the case with Altidore on Wednesday night after he scored the lone goal in Toronto FC‘s 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew, a result that booked the Reds’ spot in the MLS Cup for a second consecutive year.

Altidore has not had an easy time of it over the last few months. As one of the most-high profile American players, he and TFC captain Michael Bradley have suffered the brunt of fans’ displeasure over the U.S. failing to qualify for next summer’s World Cup.

In the Reds’ regular season finale, a sold-out crowd in Atlanta mercilessly booed Altidore and Bradley every time they touched the ball. New York fans followed suit in the first round of the playoffs, adding in a few “F–k you, Jozy” and “F–k you, Bradley” chants for good measure. After Altidore was subbed out, one Red Bulls fan behind Toronto’s bench chirped him by questioning his patriotism and religion – Altidore is a Jehovah’s Witness, and doesn’t sing The Star-Spangled Banner or put his hand over his heart when the anthem plays on religious grounds.

Finally, it all came together for Altidore on Wednesday night at BMO Field, the TFC forward having his “Bobby Baun moment” when he scored the winner while playing on an injured ankle.

It all fit into a wonderful story about redemption and overcoming adversity. Player suffers World Cup humiliation, player suffers abuse from fans, player scores winning goal in playoffs. Instant narrative! Or, so it seemed.

Helping to send his team through to the MLS Cup final wouldn’t make up for the World Cup disappointment, but surely, one reporter asked Altidore after the game, scoring that goal helped to alleviate some of the personal hurt.

Altidore, though, was having none of it.

“People keep thinking that I’m some wounded animal. [The World Cup failure] didn’t only happen to me – it happened to a group of guys, and a lot of fans. It is what it is. It’s disappointing, but we have to move on from it, and learn from it and become stronger for it … What happens in Toronto has nothing to do with what happened to the national team,” Altidore replied.

Maybe not qualifying for the World Cup is eating up Altidore in private moments. If it did, you could hardly blame him. Publically, however, he’s moved on from that disappointment by carrying himself with class and dignity, downplaying the “boo birds” and the profanity-laced chants directed at him. He’s simply got on with his life.

It’s this simple resolve, this strength of character, that also saw Altidore overcome a great deal of physical pain to produce one of the biggest moments in MLS history.

Accidently clattered into from behind by Crew defender Harrison Afful early in the second half, Altidore crumpled to the ground in a heap. He was in dire pain, twice limping off the field to receive treatment, which included getting his injured ankle taped up. But he blocked out the pain and latched onto a perfect pass from teammate Victor Vazquez before scoring at the far post to send BMO Field into a state of bedlam.

In the post-match press conference, Altidore admitted that he couldn’t really move and was just hobbling around the pitch after getting his ankle taped up on the sidelines. When he came back in, he knew he couldn’t last long, so he was simply trying to stay on the field long enough to give his potential replacement enough time to warm up. He ended up scoring the winner.

“I knew if there was a play, if I can get a chance to make a play, then I wanted to be on the field for it. It all worked out in the end,” Altidore said.

Altidore downplayed the heroic nature of his goal-scoring exploits on the night, but Bradley didn’t shy away from tooting his teammate’s horn.

“When you’re standing in the tunnel on nights likes this, and you look behind you, when you see Jozy, it’s a damn good feeling because you know what he’s going to be about,” Bradley offered.

“You know that he’s going to give you everything he has, and on a night when it didn’t necessarily come easily or simply, and in a moment when nobody would have thought twice if he had gone off, he found a way to keep going and make a big play for us.”

That’s what Jozy Altidore does. He makes things happen without drawing attention to himself or looking for approval. He just plays, quietly going about his business. Hardship happens, but that’s part of the game. He deals with it.

Don’t you dare feel sorry for him.

Toronto FC supporters get an inside look into their favourite club every Monday night at 11 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. It’s an all-access pass with co-hosts Brendan Dunlop and Thomas Michalakos as they interview the biggest names around the team and preview and review of every TFC match.

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