As Jozy Altidore starts his career with Toronto FC, he does so under the shadow of the recently departed Jermain Defoe. In the past couple of weeks all articles mentioning one of them was quick to bring up the other. This was even before it was confirmed that one was swapped for the other. As Toronto unveiled Altidore at a press conference today, they did nothing to separate the two, instead preferring to show the contrast. It seems that the plan is to have Altidore move out of the shadow himself.
In fact well before he even mentioned the club's newest acquisitions in his opening statemenst, Tim Bezbatchenko addressed the Englishman who had caused Toronto FC so much publicity harm. It was never anything malicious, never anything that came close to Tim Leiweke's "get the hell out of our way" statements from last year. Instead it read more like an author trying to put a suitable ending on a story that hadn't exactly ended the way he envisioned.
"Without Jermain Defoe, we wouldn't be here today," said Bezbatchenko, praising the player's willingness to give Major League Soccer a try.
He could have meant it literally, as aforementioned Defoe was the asset Toronto used to acquire Altidore. However, Defoe was important for another key reason: he taught the team how to deal and convince international talent. It is something that surely helped with the Altidore negotiations, and likely is helping right now as the club talks to Sebastian Giovinco.
Potentially, with his stay only lasting a calendar year, Defoe also taught Toronto what sort of factors they would have to deal with if they wished to retain this sort of talent for any sort of extended period. Today Bezbatchenko revealed what he felt were the reasons Defoe is no longer with the club, citing the fact that he wasn't always invested in the "project" that is a international star playing in MLS.
"I think he did initially, but maybe wasn't throughout the middle of the year and the end of the year," explained Bezbatchenko. He then cut off his thought to mention how different Altidore would end up being.
Commitment, that was the first of three subjects that coach Greg Vanney used to create contrast between Defoe and Altidore in his intriguing opening remarks. Altidore wants to be here, and has the same vision as the club in terms of wanting to "make a statement".
"[We] want to take the game to new heights in North America," explained Altidore. "This is the perfect place to do it, there is no better place to do it."
Secondly, Vanney pinpointed the fact that Toronto really wants its designated players to be connected. They want the frame of the team to be solid, and have the same mentality, so that they can be sure of the bricks they are laying around that core. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore clearly have an excellent relationship, and it was made clear today how much Bradley had to do with his American teammate landing in Toronto.
"They have a relationship that is second to none," said Vanney. "We've seen that through the process of getting Jozy here."
The final point of contrast was the fact that Altidore comes in already having been subject to some of the factors that may turn off players like Defoe. Altidore has played in Major League Soccer before, and when he was here the league was fairly worse than it is today. He knows about the travel, the understands some of MLS's quirky processes, even having to go through one of them to come to Toronto.
"From the last time I've been here, the league has grown leaps and bounds," said Altidore, a fairly extravagant press conference probably didn't hurt.
By Toronto standards, however, it was pretty subdued. As Bezbatchenko mentioned, this one was across the street from Real Sports Bar where a massive crowd came to watch Defoe be announced a little over a year ago. There was also a notable absence where a double-decker "Bloody Big Deal" bus was parked last year. Maybe Toronto has learned its lesson about setting expectations, but this isn't going to be the last player Toronto announce.
"We are looking to make some other Major announcements during in the next couple of weeks before preseason, and during preseason," said Bezbatchenko. The names that fill in those blanks have yet to be announced.
Today, it was about two names: Jozy Altidore and Jermain Defoe. By this time next year, Toronto will be hoping that the latter name will fade from memory, while the former will have made himself the name of everyone's tongue.