It’s no surprise that both Jozy Altidore and his national team know the new Toronto FC forward is at a crossroads. Once labeled the next American to become a Premier League mainstay, Altidore turned down interest from clubs like Lille and Stuttgart to return to Major League Soccer.
And as the coach who has both given him the captain’s armband during this prolonged club slump, Jurgen Klinsmann knows that Altidore’s move to MLS is a risk and an opportunity.
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Both had very interesting things to say at USMNT camp, as reported by MLSSoccer.com. Chief among them is a note that hasn’t been struck often in the media, that being headquartered in North America during a very busy USMNT period — the Gold Cup and Copa America Centenario are coming — could be quite helpful.
“There’s never been a time like this,” Altidore said. “You’ve got the Gold Cup, Copa America, the Confederations Cup and then the World Cup. It’s the best time to be a national team player. It’s the best time right now in our league. I felt like this was a good time to take the jump.”
Now he needs to perform.
“He has to prove himself,” US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “He went through a tough time, and he has to fix it. And I think this is a huge opportunity at Toronto now to prove a point that he is who we think he is, meaning scoring goals and playing strong and getting Toronto into the playoffs and possibly winning the title. So there’s a lot on his plate.
“At the same time, we’re going to have a very busy schedule with the national team [in] 2015, with the Gold Cup in the summertime, with very prestigious friendly games in the FIFA windows and at the end of the year with World Cup qualifying. There’s a lot at stake, and there’s many, many occasions now for him to prove his point.”
Altidore will score in MLS, and has almost always netted well for the USMNT. And with so many veteran U.S. players in Major League Soccer, perhaps Klinsmann has come to terms with the fact that MLS isn’t Bundesliga, La Liga or the Premier League, but is a better training ground for the brutal play of CONCACAF than being in the Eredivisie or similar mid-level European leagues.
Though we’ve heard the “Watch out for TFC” refrain before, something about this seems different. The club failed at making the playoffs last season with Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Gilberto, but also missed their best player (Bradley) for the World Cup and dealt with plenty of injuries to players like mainstay center back Steven Caldwell (who returns this year).
Make no mistake, this calculated risk for Altidore might be odds-on to be a success, but it is an uncertainty (like almost everything, really). The difference is that his possible failure, while a long shot, would be a monumental collapse. No pressure.