TORONTO – It has been a vexing few months for Jozy Altidore.
It started with the US men's national team not qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and all the soul-searching that inspired, along with the boos he and Michael Bradley – his Toronto FC and US teammate – heard around MLS in the wake of that disappointment.
It continued in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal against the New York Red Bulls, where he and US teammate Sacha Kljestan mixed it up – first on the pitch, and then again at halftime in the tunnel at BMO Field – a fracas that saw Altidore red-carded and suspended, his appeal rejected.
Altidore had to sit in the stands and watch the opening leg of the Eastern Conference Championship against Columbus Crew SC, watching the two sides play to a scoreless draw, when the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs finally resumed after a long pause.
For these turbulent times, Altidore leans on old, familiar lesson: “That's life, man.”
“That's what my dad told me. Things aren't going to always go your way and that's life,” Altidore said. “It was disappointing what happened with the national team, but that's behind me now. For me, it's to focus here in Toronto; trying to do everything I can to help us be successful.
“It's not something you forget, but you've got to try to look forward, take advantage of the next opportunity.”
Even so, the wait for Wednesday night's second leg in Toronto has seemed interminable at times, though Altidore has done his best to manage it.
“You don't see me banging my head against my wall at home, sitting there, waiting to play,” said Altidore. “Days go by, weeks … that's the format. With international breaks there is nothing you can do about it, so everybody has got to deal with it. It's frustrating, but you've got to keep yourself ready, focused on what we're playing for.”
With both of Toronto FC's star strikers – Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco – coming in from the cold after three weeks without a match, concerns of rust having crept in linger in the November air.
Both have put in extra work, but Altidore acknowledges: “There's not much you can do. I'm a firm believer that you can't really replicate matches, match fitness, and game-like scenarios. You can only get them in games.
“But we're all professionals. There aren't any excuses, in terms of making sure that we're ready come Wednesday night.”
Concerns about the pressure of playing with the season on the line? That's old hat for Altidore.
“Every game you play there is pressure,” he said. “There is no difference between the pressure in this game, a World Cup qualifier, a knockout game … there's always pressure. You've got to be able to deal with that.”
Though he does have a plan to maintain some of the calm that eluded in the last outing: “I'm going to keep my hands behind my back this game; make sure I conduct myself in a good way.”
“It's hard; emotions will fly. You put everything you have into these months, these games. All the preseason, all the diet, what guys do at home, all culminates into this. Sometimes the emotions get the best of you. I'm not saying that's right, but a lot goes into these days … you leave it all out there.”
In his corner, cheering him on, will be his family, including his three-year old son.
“He's the best goal I ever scored right there,” Altidore said with a smile. “It's great to see him. He's my everything; I live for him, do everything for him. To be able to bring him to games and be around me is terrific.”
With Toronto in need of a goal come Wednesday, there will be an additional voice added to the chorus, whether Altidore bags it or not.
"He just yells, 'Goal!' He knows that. … And 'Ole!'” Altidore said. “That's about it for right now. He doesn't really get it, but just having him around is a nice release.”