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WTR Top 20, No. 2: Jozy Altidore has Golden Boot potential in 2017

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The American has successfully salvaged the Bloody Big Deal - now he just needs to stay healthy for 30 games.

MLS: Eastern Conference Championship-Montreal Impact at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014, there was the ‘Bloody Big Deal’. Which, as we all know, turned into the ‘Bloody Big Mess’. But Toronto FC mopped up that mess and landed a star striker in the process, maybe turning the whole situation into a ‘Bloody Good Thing’ after all.

Jozy Altidore was brought from the Stadium of Light into the Toronto limelight in January of 2015. His time with Sunderland in the English Premier League had been disappointing, and both club and player needed a change. In a deal that has benefited all concerned, Tim Bezbatchenko sent Jermain Defoe back to England and received Altidore and cash in return. Defoe has since scored 36 goals in 81 appearance for Sunderland and sits fourth in the Premier League scoring charts this season 14 goals. Altidore… well, he is Altidore.

At 6’1’’, the 27-year-old plays far bigger than his listed 175 lbs. Especially during the latter part of 2016, Altidore used his physical strength to repeatedly outmuscle defenders with relative ease.

Sebastian Giovinco’s absence for a chunk of the season put the scoring onus squarely on Jozy’s shoulders. Without Giovinco, and without a legitimate attacking midfielder in the No. 10 spot, TFC relied exclusively on Altidore’s strength to put pressure on the opposition’s central defenders. Often, with multiple defenders draped over him, Jozy powered his way through the middle. Like a beast hunting its prey, his zest for goal was unwavering. Exhibit A: his goal against D.C. United on October 1.

In Seba’s absence, Altidore stepped up and led Toronto’s offence in ways that no one really knew he could. We all hoped that he had it in him, and we saw glimpses of his raw skill and power from time to time. But, no one really knew for sure. From the time that Giovinco went down (August 27) to the end of the regular season, Altidore’s stats were MVP-worthy. Yet again, from the ashes of what could have been another bloody big mess, Jozy proved to be a bloody good thing.

Altidore with & without Seba

Timeframe GP Avg. Min/GP G A % involvement in team goals when playing
Timeframe GP Avg. Min/GP G A % involvement in team goals when playing
Sep. 10 – Oct. 23, 2016* 7 73.29 5 2 58.33%
Mar. 6 – Aug. 27, 2016** 16 60.88 5 3 29.63%
2015 regular season 25 71.84 13 0 31.71%

*During, and just after, Giovinco’s injury
**With Giovinco in the lineup

Then came the playoffs. His performances were legendary. This was encouraging because it showed not only his resolve, but also his level of maturity as a top-ranked striker. With Giovinco back in the line-up, Jozy could have reverted to his support role, playing behind the TFC superstar and settling for his status as the second forward. Instead, he continued to build on his success. He used his new-found confidence to propel both himself, and his team, to heights they had never before seen or imagined.

TFC now had two top forwards: a #1 and #1a, if you will. Throughout the playoffs, Seba and Jozy were virtually interchangeable in the #1 role. It could be argued that Altidore’s scoring was more evenly distributed than Giovinco’s and, therefore, he actually ascended to the throne.

Altidore v Giovinco in the playoffs

Player GP Avg. Min/GP* G A % involvement in team goals when playing
Player GP Avg. Min/GP* G A % involvement in team goals when playing
Jozy Altidore 6 96.83 5 4 52.94%
Sebastian Giovinco 6 92.83 4 4 53.33%

*Both the Eastern Conference final (second leg) and the MLS Cup final went to extra time.

Provided that he stays healthy, the bar has been set for 2017. Anything short of an All-Star season from Altidore will be a disappointment. In fact, assuming no major injuries, he should challenge for MLS’ Golden Boot award this year. If Altidore plays 28 games this season, and scores at the same pace that he did in the last 13 games of 2016 (playoffs included), he will tally 22 goals. Last year, Bradley Wright-Phillips led the league with 24 goals and, the year before, Giovinco led all players with 22.

Keeping the required pace of 0.77 goals per game should not be a problem. Given TFC’s commitment to the 3-5-2 formation, and the creativity of Vazquez and Cooper in the No. 10 and No. 8 spots respectively, the Reds should be a sustained offensive threat from the opening whistle on March 4 straight through to Decision Day. It’s Altidore’s health that may be a concern.

Over the past two seasons, Jozy has suffered from recurring hamstring problems, missing four games in 2015 and nine games in 2016. Over this short offseason, he and TFC’s training staff have worked to strengthen and condition the muscles in order to help minimize the risk of serious injury in 2017. But the rigours of a full MLS schedule, coupled with international duties, may be too much of an ask – especially given the physical nature of his play.

Yet, that is the ask: for him to remain healthy and produce. Will he rise to the challenge? You’re bloody well right he will.