After a month of training away from the first team, Jozy Altidore is back in the fold for the Reds.
“It's been a tough few weeks for everybody involved in the club,” said the forward, who last appeared on May 22 in a 1-0 loss to Orlando City SC. “When you look at the team returning back to Toronto, the three points against New England, everybody is just really excited now to kick on, to get back home, to play in front of our fans, we hope, and to really turn the season around.”
“The season is far from done,” added. “And we're a team that understands that. We've been through rough times before and we're ready to respond, we're ready to go again, and what better way to do that than, hopefully, in front of our fans on Saturday,”
Altidore did not want to focus on what led to him training separately from the rest of the club, but did say that phone calls from Toronto FC President Bill Manning and interim coach Javier Perez were central to getting him back in the fold.
“Sometimes things go how they go, but in the end my commitment, wanting to win, wanting to be a part of the city, this group, it hasn't changed,” levelled Altidore. “It was tough being away from the team, but everybody around this building knows me, all of you know me, and you know this team comes first and it will always be that way for me.”
He is available for Saturday.
“I would like to be selected, obviously,” Altidore smiled. “I've been training almost ten weeks now on my own, but with no games, with no real opponents or anything like that, so it'll be something I have to work through, but it's nothing I haven't done.”
“It'll take me a few weeks to get going, but it is what it is and I'm just excited to be back, I'm excited to play again,” he continued. “Watching so much soccer and not being able to play is not easy, so I'm just really looking forward to getting back on the field.”
Much has happened through the 12 games that have made up the 2021 season so far. It has felt like an eternity.
Even more so than last year, when the newness of the pandemic fostered a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other approach, distance has been a challenge.
“It's tough playing so long away from home without fans,” said Altidore, asked what has ailed the team this season. “All the teams we play against there are certain moments of the game where having that crowd and having that momentum helps.”
“You can't sugarcoat that,” he continued. “Had we had a home game – a real home game – during this stretch, things would look a lot different. A home game to feel safe, to feel loved, to have people pushing you. We've been robbed of that for quite some time, so being back in Toronto and hopefully having that will only help us push forward now.”
12 down, 22 to go.
There is a lot of football still to be played.
Serendipitously, TFC return from the Gold Cup break this weekend taking on Orlando City once again, a team that has twice handed them tough losses this year.
If a win over the Eastern Conference leading New England Revolution last Wednesday was a reminder, Orlando offers a chance to put the first part of the season firmly in the past.
“If there's anybody out there that's counting us out, they’re making a big mistake,” cautioned Altidore. “That locker room is a locker room of champions, a locker room of winners. We have a new guy in Yeferson Soteldo who is ready to set the world on fire. And we're motivated and as hungry as ever.”
“Coming back to Toronto has helped out in a big way, but also the adversity and being in the position we’re in. Nobody's happy about it, but everybody's ready to work and we are far, far from finished,” he added. “So let people write us off if they may, but I'll tell you right now we're going to go again and it starts Saturday.”