It was a simple question but one certainly worth asking.
“What’s Toronto like, Mike?”
Jozy Altidore could depend on a straightforward answer from his friend and longtime U.S. Men’s National Team running mate Michael Bradley. The General, as Bradley is known, gave the city and Toronto FC a positive review. The rest is history.
“Mikey was huge,” Altidore said at his unveiling press conference on Friday at the Air Canada Centre.
“Every level we ascended to [in the U.S. soccer system] we did it together. We were always pushing each other from a young age.”
Bradley told his friend Toronto FC was a team with a vision similar to their own.
“Michael’s an honest guy,” Altidore continued. “He told me from the start, ‘Jozy you will quickly see they have the same desires as we do,’ to get better and to make a statement in terms of what we’re all about.”
General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko echoed his new striker’s sentiments.
“Michael’s just as thrilled as Greg Vanney and myself, to bring Jozy here,” said Bezbatchenko.
“He played an important role in bringing [Altidore] here.”
Altidore put pen to paper on a long-term designated player contract on Friday. For the 25-year-old it’s a return to his roots.
Drafted in 2006 by the New York MetroStars, Altidore spent the majority of his inaugural season in the pros working towards obtaining his high school diploma. That summer he impressed, scoring three goals in seven appearances. He became the youngest player to score in the Major League Soccer playoffs at 16 years and 337 days.
TFC fans will remember this goal in 2007, when the American teenager broke Toronto hearts with moves beyond his years (our apologies to fan favourite Marco Reda).
A lot has happened since then. Altidore went to Europe, became a mainstay with the U.S. National Team and put up prolific numbers in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar.
Then came a turbulent stint with Sunderland. Altidore scored three goals during his time with the Black Cats.
“I think as a professional you’re going to go through those times where everything is not so great,” Altidore said.
“How you react to those moments will define you. It was very difficult for a number of reasons, on and off the field, during my time in England but I have a great support system in my family, and I was still able to perform at a high level with the national team.”
25-year-olds don’t often embark on tours of redemption, but Altidore clearly has something to prove. To those across the Atlantic, to the league that he thrived in as a teenager and most importantly, to himself.
Wanting to be here, not just in Toronto, but in MLS, is something Vanney has mentioned repeatedly since he took the head coaching job last year. He echoed those sentiments on Friday.
“We want our DPs to want to be here, to be connected to each other so that we can build around them and we get that with Jozy and Michael and we want certainty,” Vanney said.
Altidore understands what it takes to thrive in MLS, something some players that have come from Europe in previous years haven’t been able to grasp
“Jozy understands the challenges of Major League Soccer,” Vanney continued.
“He’s been here before, he understands the travel and he understands what this league is about. With that we get some certainty with Jozy.”
Nothing is ever really certain, especially when it comes to professional sports, but the absence of destructive variables is a major positive.
“I want to instantly show the fans that I’m here for a reason,” Altidore said to a collection of reporters following the press conference. “I’m here to help the team get better.”
Jozy Altidore has something to prove in Toronto. He cannot erase what happened in Sunderland. Instead, his time with the Black Cats will be used to fuel him going forward.
“I’m very hungry to succeed. I wouldn’t have come here for any other reason.”