TORONTO – Jozy Altidore is ready to go.
After sitting out Toronto FC‘s last three games with a nagging hamstring injury, Altidore has participated in full training sessions this week and is set to return to action on Saturday when the New York Red Bulls visit BMO Field.
The club was extra cautious with Altidore, as he’s dealt with injuries throughout his tenure in Toronto and they didn’t want to rush him back into action. But the American forward declared himself 100 per cent healthy and is expected to start against New York.
“I love to play. Sitting on the sideline sucks, not being able to play. I’m excited to get back out there and hopefully get some minutes on Saturday,” Altidore told reporters after Thursday’s practice
He later added: “I was being cautious with [the injury]. … I’m fit now and I’m ready to go. Nothing lingering. I’m full throttle and ready to go.”
Fellow forward Sebastian Giovinco has also missed the last three matches with a quad problem. Coach Greg Vanney said the Italian has progressed each day at practice this week and that he could see action on Saturday.
“We will have a clear idea of where he stands probably by the end of today and into [Friday]. I’m optimistic that he can be involved and that we can start getting him back going,” Vanney revealed.
The potential return of its two starting forwards is huge for Toronto, who can clinch first place overall in MLS and capture the Supporters’ Shield trophy with a win on Saturday. Although still in first place, the Reds have lost their way a bit with two straight losses, marking the first time this season they’ve dropped consecutive matches.
Altidore and Giovinco have combined for 28 goals this season, and when they’re on the field together TFC usually wins. Toronto earned a road victory over the LA Galaxy on Sept. 16 without the pair in the lineup, but then proceeded to lose its next two contests to the Montreal Impact and New England Revolution, teams that are struggling and are on the brink of being eliminated from playoff contention.
“It’s never easy playing those teams. We had a lot of [starters] out, so it was a challenge for the guys who have to step up and play, but it’s no excuse. When you look at both of those, yeah, those teams had nothing to lose, but we didn’t play particularly well in terms of our standards,” Altidore admitted.
“The Montreal game, we gave up some cheap goals and then in New England, the same thing. … It’s about getting that grittiness back, getting to the point where we’re suffocating teams, and we’re on top of that from minute one. I think we have to get back to that come Saturday.”
Winning the Supporters’ Shield comes with the added bonus of securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, including the MLS Cup final. It’s also another piece of valuable hardware that TFC can put in its trophy cabinet.
Winning the MLS Cup is the ultimate goal, though. This would still be considered a successful season if the Reds don’t win it all, but there’s no doubt that it would be very disappointing if Toronto fell short of hoisting the MLS Cup, especially after the heartbreaking loss to the Seattle Sounders in last year’s final at BMO Field.
“I don’t think any player will tell you that he had a happy season if they got to the finals every year and lost. We want to get to the final again and try to win a trophy. I’d be lying if I said anything different. That’s the goal every year — to win trophies,” Altidore stated.
Altidore is one of several TFC stars that has combined his MLS duties with national team duty throughout the season. Altidore is a regular starter for the U.S., and he’s expected to be called up by coach Bruce Arena for a pair of crucial World Cup qualifying matches against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago later this month.
Being pulled in two different directions comes with added stress, and it can sap your energy. Altidore, though, maintains his focus and motivation in helping TFC win an MLS Cup has never wavered since signing with the club prior to the 2015 season.
“I came here to win. This was specifically the reason why I was brought to Toronto, to help transform a franchise. It was a project that I don’t think many players get offered in their career, and that’s how I’m motivated, until the project is completed,” Altidore explained.
“For me, I don’t like to leave something undone. …. Everybody who comes here is the same. We want to give it a good go and we have another good chance this year. That’s our motivation.”
Aside from his injury issues, Altidore has had to deal with pressing issues off the field. His sister who lives in Florida was caught in the crossfire of Tropical Storm Emily when it hit the Sunshine State last month. Thankfully, she suffered only light property damage and she is doing fine.
Altidore has also been following the ongoing controversy over NFL players kneeling during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner to protest the social injustice suffered by African-Americans in the U.S.
Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump called any NFL player who would kneel for the anthem a “son of a bitch,” and suggested that NFL owners should fire anyone who takes a knee. Altidore said there has been no discussion among TFC players to kneel on Saturday during the national anthem.
“Everybody is aware of what’s going on in the current political climate. Everybody has their own feelings [about it]. If anybody did choose to [take a knee] they’d be supported through and through by the club, by the players, by the coaching staff,” Altidore said.
Altidore is a socially-conscious athlete who has previously spoken about racial problems in the U.S. with great eloquence, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that he supports the NFL players’ actions.
“The comments made about them by President Trump, I think anybody would feel offended in a lot of ways. I commend them for sticking together, from top to bottom, which is important. It shows that they’re a strong group of guys that are definitely against the narrative that Trump is trying to push out and how he sees things. Kudos to them for sticking together,” Altidore stated.
And what does Altidore tell his young son about the important yet uncomfortable discussion about issues of racism in the United States that is currently taking place?
“He’s still a young buck, man. He’s three in October. Everybody is the greatest person in the world to him. To be honest that’s how I want to keep it. Everybody is equal. I don’t want him to see colour or to see race, or anything like that. Everybody is equal. That’s how I’m going to raise my child,” Altidore explained.