TORONTO – Jozy Altidore knows the stakes.
Level on 34 points in a three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference alongside Orlando City SC, to the victor also goes a leg up in the playoff races.
And there is that little matter of pride as well.
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“It’s a derby, it’s a huge match, not many things need to be said about matches like this,” Altidore said after training Friday. “Everybody has enough experience to know what these games are like, what they’re all about and, obviously, it has a little bit extra meaning with where we are on the table.”
In his fifth season with TFC, Altidore’s introduction to this rivalry came early — 14 matches in as a matter of fact — when he first squared off against the Impact in red. It was the fans who let him know the importance.
“It was one of my first games and the fans made it very clear to me that this game was different,” recalled Altidore. “We have to understand that as players. When we were new coming here, myself and Seba [Giovinco], we went through that. We understand it.”
Fittingly, Altidore scored in that one – a 3-1 Toronto win in Montreal – and since then he hasn’t looked back. In MLS regular season play, he has seven goals in 10 appearances, including that lovely free kick in a Toronto win last month.
In all competitions, he has 11 goals in 14 matches, and five assists as well.
As such, Altidore has become a target of Montreal supporters’ ire, seeming to relish plugging his ears to their howls when his July free kick ensured a 2-0 win for TFC in July.
Just noise for Altidore.
“I’ve grown used to it now the past year-and-a-half,” dismissed the striker. “It is what it is. To be honest, I don’t pay attention to it. It’s part of football. In Europe, it happens all the time everywhere you go, so it’s not a factor.”
Having played in several of these emotional contests considered derbies – US-Mexico, Sunderland-Newcastle, Alkmaar-Ajax, Red Bulls-D.C. United – Altidore sees more commonality among them than differences.
“They’re all the same in the sense where the intensity, the level of concentration, everything goes up,” Altidore said. “It’s different when you’re playing a rival, it’s like a mini-final. Usually, the beginnings of the games are not pretty, they’re a bit of a battle, a bit of a chess match of who is gaining territory. And after 25-30 minutes you start to see the play open up.
“For us, hopefully from the first minute on we can get on top of them, control the game,” added Altidore. “But these games are difficult.”
Add in that this will be the first of three meetings between the clubs over the next month with the two legs of the Canadian Championship final set for September and the anticipation this week was particularly special.
“Of course [it feels different this week],” said Altidore. “Montreal is our rival, it’s a big match. For the fans, for everybody around town. You could see the supporters revving up for this game since last week. They’ve had their eye on this match.
“As players, it’s our duty to come out with full drive, full everything, make it hard on them and try to get three points in front of our home fans.”