To hear Jozy Altidore tell it, staying in Europe would have been easier.
The Toronto FC forward returned to MLS in 2015 after 6 1/2 years playing in Spain, England, Turkey and the Netherlands. While Altidore hit some highs in his time abroad, most notably with AZ Alkmaar, he struggled at other times, and had difficulty finding traction at his final stop, English Premier League side Sunderland.
Nevertheless, Altidore viewed his higher profile in North America as an established US national team player as the bigger challenge in joining TFC.
"I wouldn’t say this move was for comfort," Altidore told reporters during a roundtable in New York City on Monday. "I think for comfort I would’ve stayed somewhere in Europe. I know it sounds awkward and weird, but I think coming here to be exposed to what you’re going to be exposed to in terms of criticism, expectation I think it’s a lot different than if I was to go to another mid-table team somewhere in Europe or something like that, where I think the focus is more a different type of pressure.
"When you look at MLS and you look at Toronto, you call a spade a spade, if we don’t do well, it’s myself, [Toronto teammates] Michael [Bradley], Sebastian [Giovinco]. If we do do well, that’s the way it’s looked at."
Altidore acknowledged the difference between then-sparse crowds at Giants Stadium while playing for the New York Red Bulls (2006-08) and more robust stadium experiences upon his return last year.
"Where I started when I was in the league and you look at it today it’s grown leaps and bounds – its not even funny how far we’ve come so I feel like I’ve been really blessed to have been a part of it, to have a sort of hand in that road," he said. "Is it perfect? No, not by any means, but I think we’re on the right track."
With young American players like his USMNT teammate Jordan Morris now able to weigh significant professional offers from both MLS and European teams, Altidore explained he talked to the Seattle Sounders rookie as he was going through his options, but noted that ultimately, there are benefits and drawbacks no matter which track players choose.
Above all, the TFC man discussed the increased intensity in playing in a European setting on a daily basis compared to MLS.
"I think one of the things that in Europe is fantastic and I think players have to realize is when you go to Europe, for instance, training on a daily basis is on the same level as a derby match on the weekend," Altidore explained. "Maybe not the same intensity for the crowd, with the people, but the intensity the players bring, simple stuff, whether its passing or warming up, this type of discipline has to be instilled now into our league, into our players.
"And I think for me this was the biggest eye opener, when I went to Europe and saw right away that guys in the reserve team that never play every day train like it’s a game, every day, every ball, every repetition, and this is something that I think we need to adapt more in our league and I think maybe sometimes a better way for players to see that is when they go to a different level and they see others do it."
The rise and proliferation of MLS academies was a positive step in instilling a professional base, said Altidore, but he was also concerned with setting an example, too, for his own success as much as for the league's.
"I think with my experience and what I’ve taken away from Europe, the fact that I come here and I still apply those things … Like I said, it’s something important. It was easy at times – maybe I can’t speak for players, but if you were in the league, and you didn’t challenge yourself, it’s easy to stagnate.
"I think you have to make sure you’re always pushing yourself in training sessions, in games. You look at a lot of the better players in the league, I think that’s what they do and they show it on the weekend."