When Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco were acquired by Toronto FC last year their roles seemed to be clear. Altidore would be the goalscorer, a like for like replacement for the departed Jermain Defoe. Giovinco, meanwhile, would be the playmaker, the first true number 10 in Toronto FC history.
Last year, that's how things played out for the most part. Altidore scored 13 goals, did not record a single assist in league play, and looked like a goal poacher and not much else. Giovinco, meanwhile, did a little bit of everything en route to winning MLS MVP.
This season, however, Altidore has yet to score a goal. It would be a fact deemed concerning if the rest of his play hasn't been so strong. While the American striker has yet to find the back of the net, his return to the lineup has been crucial to their recent run of form.
A hamstring injury saw him miss the first two games of the season, and then come on as a late substitute in both of the next two. That difficult start to the season had many concerned about Altidore's role with this team, a debate that has been around since he arrived. Even after scoring 13 goals last year, Altidore's play was called into question.
While his recent play will certainly not silence and of his critics, Altidore has shown a new versatility to his game since returning to the starting lineup. Namely, he has become the playmaker while it is Giovinco who is capitalizing on his creativity.
Three weeks ago against the New England Revolution, Altidore brought down a long ball, beat two defenders and centred the ball for Giovinco who scored Toronto's lone goal in a 1-1 draw. A week later against D.C. United, Altidore picked up a second assist on Giovinco's winning goal.
This weekend, Altidore did not end up on the scoreboard, but he was a major reason that Toronto FC did. Altidore drew a first-half penalty that Giovinco used to give TFC a 1-0 lead against their rivals, the Montreal Impact. Earlier in the match, he set up Jonathan Osorio at the top of the box, but the Canadian's shot was stopped by Evan Bush.
Just as important, Altidore has been an outlet that Toronto FC did not previously have. With the exception of the American, the majority of the Toronto frontline is fairly small in stature. Having Altidore in the Toronto lineup allows the team to have more of a target both in the box and during long clearances from the back.
Altidore has already turned one long ball into a goal, his drawn penalty this week started from him bringing down a long ball and has created chances on others. His chemistry in this regard with Michael Bradley is well documented, but it helps the fullbacks Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour as well if they have a player to whom they can cross the ball.
It's a small sample size, and if he does not start to score himself soon there will be concerns. But so far in 2016 Altidore has looked more rounded as a player and the Toronto FC attack is benefitting.
Things will only improve if Altidore can keep his recent form up while becoming a scoring threat himself. Having a strike partnership where Giovinco and Altidore can consistently create chances for one another will make Toronto's attack incredibly difficult to shut down. It is something that the pair have rarely been able to accomplish, a 3-2 win over Montreal in the Voyageurs Cup last year being the best example.
Altidore is paid to be a goalscorer. But if he can start to find the back of the net while continuing to be a playmaker, he may finally live up to his lofty expectations.