It looked like they had a Jozy Altidore-sized hole in attack.
TFC improbably made it to MLS Cup without Altidore – and center back Omar Gonzalez – playing a single minute in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs prior to the title bout, but they fell at CenturyLink Field to the home side, 3-1, when it mattered most. Altidore made his 2019 postseason debut off the bench and scored the club's lone goal, a consolation header in stoppage time.
One can't help but wonder what might have been if Altidore had been fully healthy and able to start.
“What do you think?" Altidore glared to reporters afterwards when asked if the result would have been different were his quad injury firmly in the past. "Do you think it could have gone different?”
“If you want to talk about those things, you can do that all you want," Altidore later added. "You can overanalyze starting versus not starting. I think I could have helped, I’ve said that always from the first day I was injured. I thought I could start against (Round One opponent) D.C. United because that’s the competitor in me. Coach makes his decisions, we’re fine, we live with them and move on.”
For their part, Extratime broke down the importance of Altidore's absence from the starting lineup following the game:
Altidore took part in training on Friday for the first time since getting injured on Decision Day presented by AT&T, as well as a lighter session on Saturday, proving his fitness to head coach Greg Vanney and his staff.
“It’s soccer, you work with what you have, and unfortunately Jozy got injured right before the playoffs," Vanney said. "I think the rest of the group stepped up. … We evolved, we became something different. … We missed him. I wish for Jozy’s case he would have been able to play more because I know he missed it as well.”
In his absence, TFC changed systems and played Alejandro Pozuelo as a false No. 9 rather than opting for a like-for-like switch. Vanney noted that helped the team create overloads in the final third.
The margins at the top of MLS are so thin. Despite their early control, TFC couldn't capitalize. Now, they'll spend try to spend the offseason trying not to think about what might have been.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the group," Altidore said. "Of course I want to play, I want to play every game. But if we win today and play the same team, you’re not saying these things. This is how it is sometimes.”