Altidore’s attitude symbolic of TFC’s quest for MLS Cup

TORONTO – Soccer fans in this city will be relieved to know that Jozy Altidore is completely unbothered by all the hoopla surrounding Toronto FC as it prepares to host MLS Cup.

Altidore is all business ahead of this Saturday’s championship showdown against the Seattle Sounders at BMO Field, and he’s in no mood to talk about personal narratives or what he’s been through ahead of the biggest moment in franchise history.

He has a game to win and goals to score. That’s what he’s focused on. Nothing else. That point was driven home by the American forward this past weekend in emphatic fashion.

The significance of what Toronto FC has done in reaching Major League Soccer’s final, an accomplishment that’s been a decade in the making, can’t be over-stated. It’s even more amazing when you consider that the team was, for most of its first eight years in MLS, the laughing stock of the league. That’s an important part of TFC’s story, and the club’s amazing ascent can’t be properly chronicled without refencing that troubled history. To do otherwise would be to commit journalistic fraud.

Within that same contextual framework are the tales of the players themselves—accounts of sacrifices made, of hardships suffered, and of personal growth achieved. Those are important stories that deserve to be told and that readers should know about.

So, it was in the aftermath of the Reds’ win over the Montreal Impact to clinch their spot in the MLS Cup final that this correspondent asked several players and coach Greg Vanney if they’d stopped to think about everything they’ve been through in their individual careers leading up this match. All of them answered that they hadn’t, but that they’ll likely do so once this magical playoff run comes to an end.

The same question was then posed to Altidore on Saturday following the team’s training session: Have you taken a moment to reflect on the personal journey that you’ve taken to get to this point?

“No,” Altidore curtly replied.

Not at all?

No words. Just a simple shake of the head, a pursing of the lips and a quizzical stare.

Prodded a third time, Altidore duly dropped the hammer, putting this reporter in his place, politely but firmly, with a thoughtful response.

“This isn’t personal. This is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So why would I think about [that]? This has nothing to do with what I’ve been through—this [is about] what the city has been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important,” Altidore said.

In light of everything Altidore has been through in his career, asking him about his journey seemed a perfectly reasonable line of questioning.

Let’s not forget, he had a very rough go of it in the Premier League with Sunderland, where he was hounded, quite unfairly at times, by the ruthless English press over his scoring record (just one league goal in two seasons). He was dogged by nagging hamstring problems and minor scoring droughts in his first year in Toronto, leading some fans and media to write him off, again rather unfairly, as an over-paid star who couldn’t produce.

He was mired in a terrible scoring slump to begin this season and then suffered an injury that sidelined him for more than two months. But Altidore has been Toronto’s best and most important player during the second half of the campaign and the Reds’ march to the MLS Cup final.

Since his return, the American international has been in the best form of his MLS career, scoring 10 goals and adding three assists in 15 regular-season appearances. He’s been even better in the playoffs, with five goals and five assists. In doing so, he became the first player in league history to score in five consecutive games in a single post-season campaign. Overall, he has 15 goals in his last 19 games, giving credence to Vanney’s claim that Altidore is “an incredibly well-rounded striker.”

If ever there was a time for Altidore to tell his story about what he’s overcome and how he’s endured, this was it.

The American, though, was having none of it. For him, the question about his personal journey wasn’t just ill-timed, it was completely nonsensical. Notice the middle part of his answer: “Why would I even think about that?” It gives you all the insight you need into his attitude and frame of mind.

Jozy Altidore doesn’t want some pity party thrown in his honour. Getting to MLS Cup isn’t about his personal redemption, restoring his reputation (it doesn’t need any restoring, for the record), or proving the critics wrong. It isn’t about what he or any of his teammates have been through.

This is bigger than all of them. Much bigger. It’s about Toronto FC—the hard-working club employees, the long-suffering fans, and the vibrant community surrounding it.

Altidore’s hardened attitude has become symbolic of TFC’s quest for the Cup. It should serve the Reds well against Seattle.

Article Written by John Molinaro of Sportsnet