When you make $3.6 million a year and when you hold a Designated Player status in MLS, there is naturally going to be more scrutiny on your game than some of the teammates around you. When you get into a highly publicized argument with your head coach, that scrutiny increases. When that argument leads to you being banished from the team, and sent off to train alone (presumably not on the clay tennis courts of Roland-Garros), that scrutiny reaches almost peak levels. When the head coach gets fired, and the President of the club reaches out to you to welcome you back into the fold? Well, then the scrutiny goes full Spinal Tap. It gets turned to 11.
Look, it’s very much simplifying the issue to suggest Jozy Altidore outlasted Chris Armas, and that he’s the last man standing, but it’s hard to look at Altidore’s Instagram the day after the Armas firing and not believe that was exactly the narrative Jozy was selling here, isn't it?
Altidore said all the right things in his press conference, but if there is anything we have learned from professional athletes, it’s that they are absolutely driven by perceived slights, whether real or manufactured. Heck Michael Jordan, as we learned in his Netflix docuseries, even made up stories about other players in his head, just for that added extra motivation. In this situation, Jozy doesn't need to invent any slights or disrespect, he has a case ready made for him after being told by the ex-coach to essentially “go take a hike.”
Coach and player did not get along. Why? We do not exactly know the reasons but there’s probably a fair bit to glean from the way things were proceeding. Armas had deployed an offensive style that seemed exactly ill-suited to the playing style of Altidore and in return, Jozy gave minimal effort to make that press style work. Meanwhile after just a few games, Jozy found himself where Jozy has often found himself of late...on the physio table. It could be understood why Armas was hesitant to upend his system in favour of Jozy’s whims and likes, because it’s one thing to suit your system to the talents of Robert Lewandowski, and another to tailor your system to someone who has three goals in the last two MLS seasons combined. These two were on an ideological crash course, and it was never going to work out again between them.
Well, thanks to DC United, and a record setting 7-1 thrashing, Armas found himself fired, and Altidore can begin the ‘Jozy Altidore Vindication Tour’, with possibly a stop in Toronto to kick things off. He is the last man standing...for now.
The problem for Jozy is that there is very little leeway for him in his return. If he comes back and stumbles again, and the last two years aren't an aberration, but rather the status quo where he inadvertently proves Armas correct and cements his exit away from the club at the end of the season, this time, there will be no Armas, or Taylor Twellman or Alexi Lalas to blame. If Jozy doesn't start performing again—at some reasonable level of expectation—it will only be himself to blame. The coach is gone, Alejandro Pozuelo and Yeferson Soteldo are back, and there is a young & hungry striker in Ayo Akinola who has certainly made the case for his inclusion into the starting XI.
The next few games, once Jozy is back, will be legacy defining for him. He will either ride into the sunset as a Toronto FC legend, or as someone who was a shell of his former self, as someone who left the game bitter and lacking all introspection, and of someone whose fondest memories are already three years into the rearview mirror.
That’s the problem when you get into a showdown and you’re the last man standing. There’s no one else to shoulder the blame with you. Jozy Altidore, in my opinion, is always a player that takes a certain joy in “silencing the haters”, heck it’s one of his trademark gestures after scoring a goal. There’s been a lot said and written about him recently in regards to the problems between he and Armas; now would be the perfect time to put that index finger to the mouth and shush the crowd. The slights can be made into painful crow to swallow.
Clock is ticking Jozy. Your Toronto FC legacy is in your hands, and no one else's. Don’t shrug it off.