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Jozy Altidore sidelined four to six weeks following foot surgery

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Toronto FC’s difficult start to the 2018 MLS season has come as a result of several factors, but injuries continue to be a resounding contributor for the defending league champions.

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On Tuesday, the club announced that striker Jozy Altidore will be sidelined four to six weeks after undergoing foot surgery to remove bone fragments from the afflicted area.

Altidore has scored twice in his three league appearances for TFC this season, while also helping the Canadian side reach the CONCACAF Champions League final — where Greg Vanney’s side fell to Chivas Guadalajara.

The U.S. Men’s National Team striker is coming off of his best MLS season in 2017, where Altidore recorded 17 goals and six assists as Toronto FC went on to win MLS Cup.

Given the current timetable for Altidore’s return, the 28-year-old could miss all three of the USMNT’s upcoming international friendlies with the injury setback.

The U.S. will face Bolivia on May 28 in Chester, PA before taking on Ireland and France on June 2 and June 9, respectively.

Toronto seeks strong home effort against Chivas in CCL final

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In nine days, an unprecedented feat could appear in the record books for Toronto FC, however, the MLS side needs to start strong in its first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final.

TFC will host Chivas de Guadalajara on Tuesday night (8:15 p.m. ET) at BMO Field in Toronto, which provides the Canadian side the opportunity to build momentum before the two clubs meet in Mexico the following week.

For MLS sides, it’s long been a struggle when it comes to facing teams from Liga MX, particularly for clubs that have to travel to Mexico.

Manager Greg Vanney and his side will aim to construct a similar formula to their efforts against Club America in the CCL semifinals. TFC went up 3-1 in the first leg at BMO, before settling for a 1-1 draw at the Estadio Azteca in the return leg.

TFC’s starting roster has been fully rested after sitting out for the weekend’s 2-0 defeat to the Colorado Rapids in MLS play, and that extended layoff for the regulars should benefit the squad as it prepares for Chivas.

Jozy Altidore is expected to play on Tuesday, despite suffering a foot injury early in the second leg against America, while Justin Morrow, Chris Mavinga and Gregory van der Wiel could all play massive roles on the back line for TFC.

Meanwhile, Chivas’ road to the CCL final has been an intriguing one.

The Mexican side took out Dominican club Cibao in the quarterfinals with ease, before needing a comeback performance against the injury-depleted Seattle Sounders in the following round.

The semifinals saw a hard-fought and largely defensive setup from Chivas, who edged the New York Red Bulls to reach the title match. With the Liga MX club facing the likes of Sebastian Giovinco and Altidore twice in eight days, it’s not unlikely that Chivas will align itself in a similar fashion against Toronto.

CCL: Toronto FC takes 3-1 lead over Club America

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The CONCACAF Champions League delivered on the day’s UEFA predecessors, with Toronto FC and Club America providing thrills and outstanding goals on Tuesday.

The semifinal first leg saw Toronto FC seize a two-goal advantage at a cold, sloppy BMO Field, boasting a 3-1 win ahead of the April 10 second leg at Estadio Azteca.

[ RECAPS: Juve-Real | Sevilla-Bayern ]

Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist, Marky Delgado had two assists, while Jozy Altidore and Ashtone Morgan also scored for the hosts.

TFC went ahead early, with Sebastian Giovinco earning and converting a penalty kick in the ninth minute, but saw momentum halted by a mazy dribble from Andres Ibarguen. The diminutive Colombian winger took Michael Bradley twice before belting this shot past Alex Bono to make it 1-1 in the 21st minute.

Yet two of Toronto’s outstanding DPs teamed up to restore the Reds’ lead heading into halftime. Look at this ball from Giovinco to Altidore.

Being a Toronto playoff game, the event couldn’t be complete without tunnel drama. Plenty of arbiters were needed to separate several America and TFC players heading into the locker rooms a la Kljestan v. Altidore 2017.

The 58th minute saw TFC pick up what will feel like a comfort to many Canadians: a third goal. Ashtone Morgan burst into the 18 to reach a ball that was set to just miss Altidore.

Those who regularly criticize MLS will do well to witness this team goal.

Toronto FC 2-1 Tigres: Reds punch back

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Jonathan Osorio and Jozy Altidore scored second half goals as Toronto FC came back to top UANL Tigres 2-1 in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal at BMO Field on Wednesday.

Eduardo Vargas gave UANL Tigres a 1-0 lead, but the Liga MX side was behind the 8-ball the rest of the night.

The second leg is at 11 p.m. ET Tuesday at the Estadio Universitario.

[ MORE: USWNT wins SheBelieves Cup ]

Chances were at a premium in the first half, and the match deservedly went to halftime at nil-nil.

Tigres swapped Enner Valencia for Andre-Pierre Gignac at hafltime, giving the Reds a tactical challenge in adjusting to two very different strikers.

A moment after Jozy Altidore was stymied by Jose Francisco Torres, the big TFC striker was livid with the referee’s decision to not award him a 49th minute penalty.

Vargas beat Alex Bono in the 53rd minute, the Chilean scoring in yet another big spot.

TFC should’ve been level two minutes later, but Osorio opted for using the outside of his right foot over the natural path of Altidore’s cross to his left. The shot zipped over the goal.

Giovinco won a free kick dribbling through traffic in the 57th minute, but couldn’t get his shot to dip under the bar.

Altidore put the Reds ahead when Marky Delgado one-touched the big striker in on goal, and Altidore slid the ball home to make it 1-1.

Gignac then nearly beat Bono with a similar volley to Vargas’ goal, but the ball bounded wide of the far post.

The tide had swung in Toronto’s favor, and Giovinco won another free kick — perhaps with embellishment — near the chalk of the 18. The wall served its purpose.

Michael Bradley was at his very best in producing what could’ve easily been a go-ahead goal, swooping in front of a Tigres pass and then making a nifty 1v1 move before delivering a world-class cross that Altidore bungled on the six.

Osorio got the winner in the 89th minute, backheeling Giovinco’s cross into the Tigres goal.

Chris Mavinga made an outstanding challenge to stop Ismael Sosa late.

Here’s the winner:

With no World Cup for USMNT, Altidore shifts focus

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For Jozy Altidore, this was supposed to be the time when the United States was preparing for this summer’s World Cup. That changed early in October when the Americans got bounced from the tournament.

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The stunning failure shifted Altidore’s focus.

He spent the beginning of 2018 in Grand Cayman, where his foundation is bringing soccer to kids in a region hit by hurricanes last fall. Soon, he’ll start the new season with defending MLS Cup champion Toronto FC.

As for this summer? Altidore will watch a few of the matches in Russia on television. The 28-year-old forward isn’t stewing in the loss, he’s looking with hope to the future.

“Of course I’ll obviously be disappointed not to be there, but at the end of the day, man, we’re blessed to do what we do,” he said.

Apart from the national team loss, Altidore is coming off one of the better years of his career. He scored 18 goals with the Reds and another four with the U.S. national team. Toronto FC won the Supporters’ Shield for the best regular-season record before sweeping through the playoffs and defeating Seattle 2-0 for the league title. Altidore scored in the final and earned MLS Cup MVP honors.

The victory was a bit of revenge for a loss to the Sounders for the MLS Cup the previous season, but Altidore said Toronto’s motivation was part of a season-long journey he took with his teammates and coach Greg Vanney.

“I think more than anything we understood how close we were and how it hurt that we had come up short that season,” he said. “The focus for us was to do what we did that last year and if we got to the last game, obviously make sure we got the W and make the most of our chances.”

Altidore celebrates his goal against the Seattle Sounders during the MLS Cup Final (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)

Toronto teammate and fellow national team player, Michael Bradley, echoed the sentiment after the title match.

“When push comes to shove, you want to step into the biggest moments with people that you would do anything for, that you love, that you believe in, that you trust, that you know have your back,” Bradley said.

But it wasn’t all smooth. Altidore got into a confrontation with New York Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan in a tunnel at BMO Field during the conference semifinals. Altidore and Kljestan were handed red cards in the aftermath.

Altidore sat out Toronto’s next game, while Kljestan was suspended an additional game and won’t be able to play the first two games of the upcoming season. Kljestan, who was also fined, was traded in the offseason from the Red Bulls to Orlando.

Altidore and Bradley were also jeered – sometimes with profane and personal attacks – by opposing fans over the U.S. team’s qualifying performance.

“Look, all that stuff I think would have been magnified had we not achieved our objective,” Altidore said. “But we did, and we did it in such a convincing manner.”

Following the 2-1 U.S. loss in Couva, Trinidad, that cost the national team a spot in the World Cup, coach Bruce Arena stepped down and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said he would not run for another term.

Interim U.S. coach Dave Sarachan called 30 players into January training camp in advance of an exhibition game against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Jan. 28 in Carson, California. Altidore and many of the team’s veterans were not invited.

The camp roster includes 15 players who have never played in a match for the senior national team. The most experienced was LA Galaxy midfielder Gyasi Zardes, who is 26. Twenty-one of the players are 24 and younger.

Altidore, who has 41 goals in 110 appearances with the national team, understands that developing young talent is important heading into the next World Cup quadrennial. “We have to do a better job of identifying new talent, for sure,” he said, suggesting that missing out on the past two Olympics – where under-23 teams compete – has hurt development efforts.

For now, Altidore is pouring his energy into charitable endeavors.

Altidore, whose parents are from Haiti, launched his foundation in 2011 following the devastating earthquake that hit the country the year before. The foundation built a well to provide water to a town of more than 400 in Haiti, along with other rebuilding efforts. In 2016, he paid to bring the Copa America matches to television in the country.

The latest effort in the Cayman Islands focuses on getting youth involved in soccer.

“I think the whole region, the Caribbean has a lot of talent and has a lot of kids who want to become players. And I think it helps to see and identify with players who have played in different leagues from around the world,” he said. “If I’m able to be one of those guys that can start that whole thing, it’s a great opportunity and honor for me.”