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Calling Out Jozy Altidore Might Have Been Ill-Advised

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There is no question that Jozy Altidore is in a slump. But Toronto's attempts to light a fire under their star striker might have only made things worse.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

As a manager, Toronto FC's Greg Vanney is fairly reasonable. Even those are quick to say he should be fired would hardly classify him as unfair or ill-tempered. After matches he is calm, almost cerebral as he breaks down how a game played out, even after heart crushing losses.

That's why it was a bit surprising when Vanney appeared to call out striker Jozy Altidore last week in training after a string of poor performances. Calling out players has never really been Vanney's style, and in this case it may have been a mistake.

"Jozy needs to be more involved. Some of that was us, some of that is Jozy," Vanney said a week ago. "He's a key player for us. We need to get him into good spots, in and around the goal. We need to find him with good balls."

Since then there has been debate as to whether the intention of Vanney was to publicly criticize his player or not: that it was more about the team using Altidore better.

However, for many anything after the first sentence of the quotation might as well have never been said. It was treated like a direct criticism for Altidore's recent play, and put plenty of pressure on him going into Saturday's match.

What was supposed to be a homecoming for Altidore turned out to be his worst full match in a Toronto kit. Instead of showing how much he had grown up since leaving home, he showed how much that growth has been stunted.

A month ago, Jurgen Klinsmann didn't exactly call out Altidore, but he might as well have cutting him from the United States national team before the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

The dismissal was supposed to ignite Altidore, give him reason to prove that this was a massive mistake by Klinsmann. He would play extra hard and earn himself a place back in the United States team before they played their Confederations Cup playoff in October.

Instead he has had his worst stretch of games since joining Toronto FC: scoring only a single penalty kick goal and only four shots in five games. To put that in perspective Michael Bradley has four shots in his last two games, Giovinco has averaged four a game since Altidore's return.

A year ago was perhaps the darkest time in Altidore's career as he was struggling to live up to expectations with a Sunderland team in an intense battle for Premier League relegation. Looking back he has been on record saying the game lost its fun for him.

It didn't help that he was consistently being called out by Sunderland manager Gus Poyet time and time again for his lackluster play. Once Poyet even said that Altidore cannot be treated as a "charity".

With Sunderland he only scored a single goal in 42 league games as he never truly found his footing in the English Premier League.

The only place where Altidore has truly been great the past couple of years has been with the United States national team, where up until recently he has been treated like a star. Even when things were going poorly at Sunderland, Altidore was scoring for the US national team, and has an impressive 27 international goals already.

This doesn't mean criticism isn't warranted with Altidore, or that he should be treated with gloves. But it could also underline the fact that Altidore responds best to positive motivation, and public criticism only further serves to hurt what is already a bad situation.

The mentality of a striker is crucial to his game, similar to a goalkeeper in hockey. One would never, or very rarely, hear a hockey coach call out his goaltender for that very reason.

Evidently none of the call outs, or half calls out, have been able to get Jozy anywhere so far. Toronto now need him more than ever to be the player that he has been at times this season as both team and player try to shake themselves out of a slump.

So instead of trying to put a chip on Altidore's shoulder, maybe it's worth trying to make the game fun again for him. Because the sooner he gets out his own slump, the sooner this team stops flirting with another playoff miss.