TORONTO, Ont.—Will he or won’t he?
That seems to be the million dollar question surrounding Toronto FC heading into the 2019 MLS Cup as the health and availability of their prized striker Jozy Altidore remains up in the air.
The Toronto FC forward, who has scored 11 times in 22 matches this season, picked up a quad injury on Decision Day Oct. 6 against the Columbus Crew SC that has seen him sidelined throughout these entire playoffs so far.
If you were to ask Altidore at the beginning of the week, he would have told you that it would have “taken a miracle” for him to be fit to play on Sunday. TFC head coach Greg Vanney somewhat upgraded that status in Seattle on Thursday.
“From ‘he needs a miracle’ to a ‘small miracle,’” the coach said with a laugh. “But we’ll see.”
#OTD in 2017 | Jozy Altidore fought through ankle injury to score the only goal of EC Final. #TFC won 1-0 to advance to #MLSCup.— Joga Bonito (@Jasoninho10) November 30, 2018
TFC didn't play that well during the series, but unlikely many Shield winners, their stars came up big and they found a way.#TFCLive #MLSCupPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/5vw6QCt3BV
Not everyone was buying it, especially not the Seattle Sounders.
“[It’s] not mind games because Greg [Vanney] is a good guy, I don’t think he plays mind games,” Sounders FC coach Brian Schmetzer said after training on Wednesday. “But look, whether Jozy plays or not, we’ll be prepared. I expect — again, it’s the last game, this is it, it’s the last game of the year — I expect him to be involved in some way.”
Prior to the 2017 Final against Seattle at BMO Field Altidore was also injured — an ankle injury that kept the Reds’ designated player out of training but not out of the championship match. Admittedly, the team and TFC striker sounded a lot more optimistic then.
“Altidore, for his part, told the media in 2017 that “it doesn’t matter how the ankle is.” He will be on the field for the MLS Cup Final. — (source: WakingTheRed.com)
While the Reds’ approach appears to be a bit more cautious this time around, it’s smart for the Sounders to be on their toes, ready for whatever TFC throws their way. If you can recall, in 2017, the Reds utilized mostly a 5-3-2 formation leading up to Final when all of a sudden coach Vanney — who we all know isn’t afraid to try different things — elected to roll out a 4-4-2 diamond midfield, causing chaos for Seattle and eventually leading to the club’s first MLS Cup.
What is for certain heading into Sunday, however, is that with or without Altidore, Toronto FC have shown that they are capable of winning big games.
Utilizing a False 9 formation with their new ‘goldenboy’ Alejandro Pozuelo spearheading the attack, the Reds have put together several strong team performances during their 2019 postseason run.
Perhaps most impressive has been their resilience through two grueling away fixtures against New York City FC and Atlanta United to earn positive results and claw their way back to the MLS Cup Final for the third time in four seasons, despite being without the services of Altidore and veteran defender Omar Gonzalez — something that the Toronto FC manager doesn’t want slipping under the rug.
“He’s part of it,” Vanney said of Altidore on Friday, visibly frustrated at the non-stop questions surrounding the TFC striker. “He’ll get involved in training today and we’ll see where he’s at. But I’d like the emphasis on the team and not just Jozy.”
Laurent Ciman. Nick DeLeon. Patrick Mullins.— Waking the Red (@WakingtheRed) November 4, 2019
Toronto FC's @MLS experience has been vital to the Reds' 2019 #MLSCup run.
:@mitchelltierney #TFCLive | #TheyWillSeeRedhttps://t.co/gWwIybb0Si
From the sounds of things, if Altidore were to appear for the Reds on Sunday, it would likely be off the bench. But regardless of whether or not Altidore’s name appears on the team sheet, there’s still a pretty significant match to be played in between the white lines on Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field.
As it stands, Jozy Altidore is officially listed as questionable heading into the third installment of the trilogy — and that’s okay.
Would it help TFC’s chances if they had their star goal-poacher? Sure. Does it kill their chances if they don’t? Absolutely not.
** Update at 12:50 pm EST: Altidore sounded a lot more optimistic from training on Saturday, reminiscent of his attitude ahead of the 2017 Final.