Jozy Altidore doesn’t much like sharing with the media and, reading some of his past reviews, it’s not hard to see why.
The burly U.S. international forward has had to deal with high expectations since turning pro at 16. And he has had to endure some harsh armchair quarterbacking.
Now 27, after stints in Spain, the Netherlands and England, he has found a home at Toronto FC. A healthy Altidore has been in beast mode the second half of the season, scoring goals and leaving a trail of bodies in his wake en route to Saturday’s MLS Cup final against the Seattle Sounders.
Since July 31, Altidore has 15 goals in 20 games, including a record five straight playoff games.
And he still has little interest in talking about himself. His US$ 4.825-million salary may stand out, but Altidore works hard to just be part of the whole.
A mark in the record books
“I just feel like what you can accomplish as a group is far greater than what you can accomplish by yourself,” he told reporters at a new conference Thursday when pressed about his reticence. “And we look to a game like Saturday, individual performances don’t really mean anything if we collectively don’t put it together as a team.”
Altidore has left his mark in record books, however.
“It’s one thing to come here and score goals and lose. Would you rather that? I didn’t think so.” - Jozy Altidore, TFC player
He was the first U.S. international to score in Spain’s La Liga and, in 2009 at 19, became the youngest player in U.S. national team history to score a hat trick.
His next U.S. appearance will be his 100th. He has 37 goals for his country.
Altidore is listed at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds but looks far thicker top and bottom. He can shrug off defenders like they are cartoon characters, sending Montreal’s Victor Cabrera flying during the Eastern Conference final with what he affectionately described as a “love tap.”
While he can be a bull in a china shop, he has a deft touch with the ball.
Total package striker
“It’s surprising for a big man like that to be that quick and that agile and have such good feet,” said Toronto fullback Steven Beitashour.
Altidore can score and play provider, and clearly enjoys combination play with Italian strike partner Sebastian Giovinco and others.
“Obviously Seba is the magician,” said midfielder Jonathan Osorio. “You look for him any chance you can get. Sometimes you give it to him and get out of his way. Sometimes you give it to him and you combine. It’s all different, it’s moving off of him.
“It’s really nice playing with Jozy because sometimes he moves off of you. And he helps me get into good positions.”
Today’s success is a far cry from the recent past.
Dark days in Sunderland
On loan to Hull, he had one goal in 28 appearances. At Sunderland, Altidore scored one goal in 42 league matches in what the Sunderland Echo called a “miserable 18-month spell.”
“Altidore will surely go down in Sunderland legend as one of the club’s worst ever signings,” the Guardian wrote in January 2015 under the headline: “Jozy Altidore’s European career: a badly advised, confidence sapping failure.”
One day later, Toronto FC confirmed Altidore’s acquisition.
It didn’t help that manager Paulo Di Canio, who brought Altidore to Sunderland, was sacked soon after he got there. While Altidore has been nothing but classy towards his former club, he has conceded it was not the right fit.
New beginning with TFC
Things have turned around since returning to North America.
Altidore had 13 goals in 25 games (21 starts) in 2015, his debut season at Toronto.
He missed 11 of the first 18 games this season, plagued once again by hamstring injuries. His first goal didn’t come until the 21st match of the season, the start of a torrid run of eight goals in nine games. He finished the regular season with 10 goals and five assists in 23 games (16 starts).
Some saw the lack of goals early in the season as a slump. After Toronto’s May 7 home opener, which was the ninth game of the season, Altidore had no goals and two assists in 473 minutes.
Asked that night about problems putting the ball in the back of the net, Altidore’s response got chillier by the word.
“I’m here to win. It’s one thing to come here and score goals and lose. Would you rather that? I didn’t think so.”
Others chose to see what he was doing off the ball.
He helps others off the field, usually outside the spotlight. The Jozy Altidore Foundation, which he founded at 19, has worked to bring clean water to Haiti. Earlier this year, it helped deliver live broadcasts to fans in Haiti of Haiti and other Copa America Centenario games.