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The clutch gene: Jozy Altidore scores his goals when TFC need it most

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He hasn’t been the most consistent, but he’s scored the big ones.

Tagwa Moyo / Waking the Red

Last night, and not for the first time, Toronto FC found a couple of much-needed goals on the foot of Jozy Altidore. The big American did what he does best, smashing a penalty past a confident Nick Rimando and then placing it perfectly into the bottom right corner for his second goal.

When TFC scored twice in the first half, a sigh of relief seemed to go around BMO Field. The Reds struggled through their first two MLS games, especially in front of goal. When Sebastian Giovinco missed an early penalty, the air was thick with nervous energy. TFC got a reprieve minutes later, though, and it was Altidore that finished the job.

If the Reds had failed to score again against RSL, fans really might’ve begun to panic.

Altidore’s performance against Real Salt Lake was, in all honesty, something we haven’t seen all too often in this young season. Plenty of times, we’ve seen him struggle with his first touch and his passing. There were even a couple moments last night where he played the ball in poorly.

As Giovinco continues to evolve into more of a playmaker, though, maybe this kind of Jozy is exactly what TFC need — a strong, physical presence in the box who can thump the ball into the net.

During the 2017 playoffs, fans saddled Altidore with the (often illusive) moniker of “clutch.” Not a lot of players can legitimately be described that way, but I’m beginning to think Jozy can. No matter the form he’s in, it seems that he’s the TFC player who manages to find a goal when the Reds need one most.

Altidore’s second goal on Friday was his 50th across all competitions for Toronto FC. That’s pretty special, making him only the second Red to reach the half-century mark — the first being Giovinco, of course.

More impressive, though (at least recently) has been the moments Jozy’s been scoring in. Two early goals against RSL to take the pressure off a team that hadn’t yet scored in MLS play. A goal at BMO Field to break the deadlock against Tigres. And, of course, a clinical finish past Stefan Frei to win TFC their first MLS Cup.

The list goes on. He was the only one from either side to score in the 2017 Eastern Conference Final. He scored the first goal against Montreal in the Olympic Stadium in 2016 to wake TFC up after falling behind 3-0.

Since the beginning of last season, no player in MLS has scored more game-winning goals (in all competitions) than Jozy’s eight. The Portland TimbersDiego Valeri is closest, with seven. Of Altidore’s 50 TFC goals, 15 have been game winners. Ten of his goals have come in knockout games (Concacaf Champions League, MLS Cup Playoffs, or Canadian Championship).

I think only Bradley Wright-Phillips of the New York Red Bulls has scored more big-game goals for his team, with three already in Concacaf this year.

So, Altidore now has three goals under his belt in 2018. He hasn’t had a fantastic start to the season, but, again, his two best performances have come at the right times. Jozy isn’t exactly a consistent force, but he does consistently bag the clutch goals TFC need.

After a couple weeks off, Altidore definitely looked fresher than he did against Montreal or down in Mexico. He agreed that the international break came at just the right time for him.

“I know for me it was huge,” he said on Friday. “It was great to just clear my head for a couple days, I think everybody could’ve used it. Some guys don’t like it, some guys do, I enjoyed a couple days to kind of just regroup and rest and get ready for another busy stretch.”

Tagwa Moyo / Waking the Red

We saw the real Toronto FC again last night, despite how many starters were missing from the lineup. If nothing else, the time off definitely helped them return to the right mindset, preventing anybody from panicking after a rough night in Montreal.

I suppose time will tell if Altidore can stay in form for an extended run of games. Regardless, though, I think he’s cemented his status as a TFC legend just by the gravity of the goals he’s scored.

“I feel good but I still think there’s another level for me,” he admitted. “I think I can play better. I’m content obviously with scoring, it’s great, but I think I can play better. My passing, my overall game can be better.”

As long as Seba continues to draw three defenders toward him at a time, Jozy will have plenty of chances to do what he does best: finish. With the amount of incredible playmakers TFC have in the lineup at any one time, that’s pretty much all they need him to do.

“I think for a while now Jozy has been excellent, probably one of the best players in the league in my opinion,” said Greg Vanney after Friday’s game. “He brings us this presence up top, outside of Jozy we are not the biggest team in the world when you at our attacking group, So Jozy brings us this presence that we can target and play into. He has done a nice job of stretching teams out, looking for moments to get in behind which keeps the back line honest.”

Altidore is, undoubtedly, a hero in Toronto. He’s scored many of the biggest goals in TFC history, including arguably the most important one last December. No other player on this team can turn on beast mode like he can.

He’s not consistent, but he scores them when it counts.