Jozy Altidore scored again this past weekend for Toronto FC, his third in four games. In the one game during that stretch during which he didn't score, he produced the game-winning assist.
He also forced a spectacular save out of Joe Willis on what would have been one of the season's best diving headers. And then, later on, he hit the post. He drew fouls in dangerous spots. He acted as an outlet in possession. He did all of the above without hurting his hamstring.
Jozy's back, and since that particular turn of phrase will surely engender a few snickers in certain parts of the fanbase, let me just bat a few things out of the air.
"He doesn't score enough goals."
Since coming back to MLS at the start of last season, he's averaged .58 goals per 90. For context, Sebastian Giovinco is at .69, David Villa is at .65 and Bradley Wright-Phillips is, like Jozy, at 58. Fanendo Adi is at .59. Guys like Chris Wodolowski, Dom Dwyer, Clint Dempsey and C.J. Sapong are well below that number. So is Jordan Morris, who is having a great rookie season, but is still scoring just .38 goals per 90.
Remove penalties from the equation -- Jozy's converted three, Villa 11 -- and he's significantly ahead of Villa. And nobody's criticizing David Villa for not scoring enough goals.
This number isn't everything. Sapong, for example, does so much more to help the attack than anything that shows up in the scoreboard -- he's the biggest reason the Union are one of the league's best attacking teams, going by most expected goals models. Villa's defensive workrate is staggering. Dwyer is a warrior who takes a beating in the toughest spots on the field -- nobody in MLS receives more "bad" passes -- to help his team. You can't go just by goals scored, or scoring rate, when talking about forwards.
And that brings us to our next issue...
"Jozy's not a good enough passer."
For the life of me I've never understood this one.
For all his faults -- and he's got a few -- lack of passing acumen has never been one of them, and no one else in the center forward pool for either the USMNT or Toronto FC can compare.
Bobby Wood, for example, is a rugged and willing receiver of the ball with his back to goal, but his decision-making remains painfully slow and his passing is linear. Morris has a nice touch when facing goal, but as of now he lacks the footwork to receive the ball with a defender on his back. Gyasi Zardes has improved immensely as a passer over the past 18 months, but is an order of magnitude better when facing goal than with his back to it.
Jozy checks every box as a passer of the ball. Like I said above, I've never understood this criticism.
"His hold-up play is bad."
And thus we get to what I've started thinking of as "The Big Change." If there was one criticism of Altidore I've been mostly on-board with over the past eight years, it's that he can often be too passive with his movement in possession, meaning that he gets to his spots late. And when that happens, you give opposing central defenders the chance to kick you in the ankle just as you're receiving the ball.
Want to know why it seems like Robert Lewandowski never seems to be battling a defender? It's because he's already done the work to get open just enough to receive the ball in space.
You can see above that's part of Altidore's game that's still being developed. You can also see, however, that his technique when receiving that pass was textbook; that he shielded well, that he got under the defender, and that he laid a sweet little two-touch ball right into Michael Bradley's run.
This is the kind of work he didn't always seem to be all that invested in (as opposed to someone like Sapong, who seems to relish taking that contact, riding it and then turning it into an opportunity to suck the defenders toward him before playing a winger into space). I felt like, back in January, we saw a change in how Altidore was approaching that part of the job. He scored three goals in four USMNT games this winter before his latest hamstring injury, but more than the goals what impressed me was how willing he looked to take a beating.
That's continued for TFC now that he's healthy again... which is, of course, the final issue.
"He never stays healthy."
And thus we get to the crux of it. If he'd stayed healthy enough to play, say, 2200 minutes last year; if he hadn't had to pull out of each of the last four USMNT tournaments with variations on the same muscle injury; if he didn't so frequently seem to fade out of games at the hour mark, there'd be far less to criticize. A 15-goal season (he won't get there this year) would shut most mouths, as would a Dempsey-esque showing at next summer's Gold Cup. A few World Cup qualifying goals would help as well.
Those are the only ways to answer this particular, entirely justified criticism. Earlier this summer he spoke about a new treatment:
"In a sense, [the hamstring] was kind of treated wrong," Altidore told reporters in July. "We went to a couple of specialists and hopefully we've fixed the problem. Obviously with hamstrings, once you have them once or twice they can reoccur, but we hope that since we've corrected it, we can be better going forward now."
"I think it was more of focusing on how treat it," Altidore added. "We didn't treat it right the first few times, and that's why it kept reoccurring. Hopefully, now, we can stop it. That's the goal."
It's been seven weeks since he resumed training, and four since he got back on the field. TFC have given him just one start. The whole point has been to bring him back slowly, to avoid the same kinds of injuries that have stunted his growth over the years, and to make sure that this time, he gets a chance to put it all together on the field week after week after week.
So yeah, Jozy's back for now. It's meant goals and assists, and a five-game unbeaten streak for TFC. It's meant more space for Giovinco to play with, and we know what he can do with that. It and it means a looming battle for the starting spot when World Cup qualifying resumes next month.
This is all a very good thing for club and country. Altidore may not have taken the career path most hoped for or expected, but if you watch him closely next time he takes the field, and evaluate exactly who he is when he's out there, I think you'll like what you're seeing.
Ok folks, thanks for keeping me company!