Even if you’ve been desensitized by the insanity of the MLS offseason, it was surely near impossible to keep your jaw anchored in place when NBA maven Marc Stein parachuted into MLS Twitter with an update on Jozy Altidore’s future.
The deal is officially done, as announced Monday morning. The 32-year-old reached a contract buyout with Toronto FC, which included guaranteed years in 2022 and 2023, and signed an extension with the New England Revolution that adds a third TAM year in 2024, reuniting him with former US men’s national team manager Bruce Arena.
I’m not going to hide how I feel about this one. I’m giddy. I’m not rooting for the Revs – though I do want all 28 teams in this league to be as close to their best selves as possible – but I’m absolutely rooting for a Jozy Altidore redemption tour.
Selfishly, I want Altidore back in the soccer spotlight. I want to watch and analyze him every week. I want him to push his way onto the United States’ World Cup roster, should they reach Qatar 2022, absolution for all those international tournaments cut short by untimely injuries. I want him to remind us all what we’ve been missing the last two years when injuries (and some drama in Toronto) robbed us of one of this country’s most compelling players and personalities.
This league (and the national team) is better with a healthy and productive Altidore in it. I suspect, even if you’ve got some emotional baggage left over from Couva or some sour feelings from his final couple years in the 6ix, that deep down you feel the same.
Like me, you’re curious. Can Altidore’s body hold up playing half his games on Gillette Stadium’s turf? If it does, can he turn back the clock and recapture the form that made Toronto FC a juggernaut and Altidore the USMNT’s first-choice No. 9? If he can check those boxes, will he be on a plane to Qatar? Is that all misplaced hope, the naive musings of an eternal optimist?
Like me, you’ll watch when he plays for the Revs to discover the answer to those questions. Like me, you know a good story can make the whole league feel bigger. Like me, you can’t wait for Concacaf Champions League to kick off and MLS is Back weekend on Feb. 26-27.
Let’s start with the obvious: Altidore is going to get paid what he’s owed for the 2022 and 2023 seasons. He may not be a “Designated Player” in New England, but he’ll be making DP money. May we all be so fortunate at some point in our lives.
With his money right, Altidore can put his full energy behind proving the doubters wrong (and there are many). The folks I’ve talked to say he was healthy at the end of the 2021 season – three goals in a four-game stretch in late October and early November – just on the outs in Toronto. The folks I’ve talked to say he’s been hard at work this offseason, training just about every day in preparation for his next destination.
You don’t have to ask around to figure out where his competitive motivation might come from going forward. Altidore is just 32 – glass half full, he’s only got 1,500 minutes on his legs in the past two seasons – and there’s a World Cup in nine months. He’s got an already-rich legacy that could benefit from a successful final chapter. He’s on a Revolution team that should compete for trophies immediately.
In Bruce Arena, he’ll also play for a manager he trusts and who trusts him. Even better, there’s no immediate pressure to play 90 minutes or deliver alone. The Revs already have a two-headed goal monster in Adam Buksa and Gustavo Bou. They’ve got the defending MVP in Carles Gil. They’ve got a veteran team that just cruised to a record-setting Supporters’ Shield title. Altidore can ease his way into things until at least the summer, when Buksa will almost certainly be sold to a European club.
After that, if he’s healthy and productive, he’ll be the starting No. 9 and New England will have another transfer kitty and a DP spot to improve the team. And if that comes to pass, why couldn’t Altidore push his way into the USMNT again? The No. 9 position is wide open. Altidore can play as a more traditional center forward or drop in to hold the ball up and feed whoever’s making vertical runs off the wing. He can be the veteran sherpa on a young, ambitious team.
I’ve said this for the past two years, and I still believe it: If Jozy is healthy – yes, still a big if – he’s the US’s best player at the position. A lot has to happen between now and November, but I think the World Cup ceiling gets raised considerably with a healthy Altidore in the squad.
It’s up to him to prove he deserves to be there.
Jozy Altidore on a TAM contract. That would have made sense for a lot of teams in MLS.
Given what we know about the European interest around Buksa, the Revs faced a bit of a succession headache up top.
They needed to sign a high-ceiling forward during this window or come the summer to keep their championship window as open as possible. If New England wanted to do it in this window, they couldn’t have signed a Designated Player unless Buksa was sold. He wasn’t. If they waited until the summer, they’d have to time it around the Buksa sale to open that DP spot, losing leverage in the process. And an incoming player of similar quality would command a sizeable fee, plus require an adaptation period with the club.
Instead, they’ve got three years of Altidore, a potential DP talent, on terms that allow them to carry three other DPs. He has time to get to know his teammates and get comfortable in New England. He doesn’t have to adapt to the league or the Eastern Conference. He can be the third (or fourth) prong of the trident and contribute to what the Revs hope is a deep Concacaf Champions League run. In a perfect world, he takes over the full-time No. 9 job from Buksa in the summer, with barely any fuss and no drop-off in quality.
That’s assuming Altidore is fit and in form. That, as it was for Toronto at a much higher price point, is the risk proposition for the Revs. As much as I want him to be swaggering, goal-scoring, headline-making Jozy, the injury bug could always jump up and bite him. The next couple months will begin to tell us whether or not Altidore’s body can keep up with his ability. The Revs are betting it can, or we wouldn’t be talking about a three-year commitment.
That comes down to trust. Arena has always been happy to stock his teams with veterans he has a history with. Case in point, New England’s big signings this offseason: LA Galaxy and/or USMNT tie-ins with Sebastian Lletget (trade), Omar Gonzalez (free agency) and Altidore. Arena tends to get the best out of guys nearing the end of their careers. That’s been a trusty trophy recipe in the past. Why can’t it produce hardware again?
The Revs are a win-now team and Jozy is a win-now player. Now they just have to go out there and win. And hey, if it doesn’t work out, they can always buy him out.