TORONTO – Saturday’s match between Toronto FC and Atlanta United is a big match for the Reds.
TFC enters the contest riding a four-game winning streak in all competitions, but they remain in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, six points and four spots out of a playoff spot. If the MLS Cup champs are to claw their way back into the post-season race, they need to continue to pick up points on a regular basis, including in this weekend’s road game against the best team in MLS.
One thing to keep an eye on from the Reds will be how they deal with Atlanta forward Josef Martinez, who leads the league in scoring with 24 goals. Another thing to watch from a Toronto perspective will be how Jozy Altidore celebrates should he score.
In last week’s 3-0 home win over the Chicago Fire, Altidore broke the deadlock in the second half when he stabbed the ball home from in close following a goal-mouth scramble. The American forward was clearly pleased and so overcome by the moment that he celebrated by taking off one of his cleats and pretended to use it as a telephone.
“I was answering the call, man. Sometimes when the city calls, you gotta pick up the phone,” Altidore joked after the game. “I love being here, I love playing for this team and for this city. This is my home, and any chance I get I want to express that.”
Speaking to reporters following Thursday’s training session, Altidore claimed his “shoe phone” celebration just came to him, and that he doesn’t have another special celebration planned for the next time he scores.
“You guys know me, man. I’m not really that guy. That was just [spontaneous] in a lot of ways. It turned out okay, but I’m not that guy. That’s the last thing I’m focused on when I’m going into games. I just want to get the game done and do my job first and foremost, before I’m thinking about what dance I’m going to do,” Altidore said.
For Altidore, the goal against Chicago was a long time coming. It was his third of the MLS season and first since March 30 for Altidore, who has played just five league games this campaign due to injuries.
Toronto has not only missed his goal-scoring prowess during his lengthy injury absence, but also his personality on the pitch, and that’s why coach Greg Vanney liked seeing the American forward letting go of himself and show a little bit of his natural character with his unique celebration.
“That’s Jozy. He’s a guy who has been on the outside of the results [and] he was excited to be back. He hasn’t been able to be involved as much this season as he wants, so one of the things he’s recognizing as he comes back is bringing us his big personality into our group is as important as bringing his big soccer ability,” Vanney offered.
What did captain Michael Bradley think of the celebration?
“I liked the goal a lot. For me, that was the only thing I care about at that point. He keeps scoring, he can celebrate any way he wants, as long as there are no yellow cards that come with it,” Bradley quipped.
“Jozy has a huge personality. We all know that, we all love him.”
Not everybody enjoyed it, though. After Altidore took off his shoe and put it on the ground, Chicago’s Raheem Edwards, tried to kick it away to prevent his former TFC teammate celebrating. But there were no hard feelings between the two.
“Raheem tried to kick it away. I told him, ‘I’m always one step ahead of you little boy.’ But Raheem’s my boy,” Altidore said with a big smile on his face.
Altidore a big fan of Alphonso Davies
Looking beyond this weekend, TFC travels to Vancouver where it will take on the Whitecaps next Wednesday in the first leg of the Canadian Championship final. The return leg is scheduled for BMO Field on Aug. 15.
Next week’s opener in the two-game series marks one of the last matches TFC will play against Whitecaps midfielder Alphonso Davies. The 17-year-old Canadian prospect was recently sold by Vancouver to German club Bayern Munich for an MLS-record US$13.5 million transfer fee. Davies will finish out the MLS season before joining Bayern.
Altidore is looking forward to facing Davies, who he feels has a “very, very bright future.”
“Huge congrats to him, especially to see him as a young black kid. You need more black role models, especially in soccer. Hopefully [Canada Soccer] does a good job of advertising and promoting him in a way where kids who look like him say, ‘You know what, I can be Alphonso Davies, too.’ The transfer is spectacular, I’m a huge fan of his – his eagerness to learn, to play, that youthful exuberance, you love to see it. I hope he continues to grow and I look forward to watching his career,” Altidore said.