TORONTO – Will Jozy Altidore play or not?
It’s become one of the running subplots of Toronto FC’s impressive postseason run, and inevitably remains a looming question ahead of their visit to CenturyLink Field for their MLS Cup rematch with the Seattle Sounders on Sunday (3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TUDN, TVAS, TSN).
It’s now been a month since Altidore injured his quadriceps in a Decision Day presented by AT&T victory over Columbus Crew SC on Oct. 6. His availability has been bandied about ahead of every game in these Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, though he’s still yet to suit up and on Monday went so far as to say it would take “a bit of a miracle” for him to take part in Sunday’s big clash.
At this point it's fair to wonder if it’s all just gamesmanship intended to give opponents as many scenarios as possible to prepare for. But TFC head coach Greg Vanney kept Altidore’s participation very much in the realm of possibility in his remarks to media on Wednesday.
“He’s doing good,” Vanney said of Altidore after the big striker trained on his own at BMO Training Ground, apart from his teammates during the section of the practice media were allowed to watch. “He hasn’t trained with the group specifically, but physically he’s doing good. We really won’t know anything until we actually put him in the middle of a training session and see where he’s at. But in terms of, we’re getting him to where we want, to see what that looks like.”
The Reds have been very effective in Altidore’s absence, typically fielding playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo as a false No. 9 and turning to Patrick Mullins off the bench when in need of a more traditional striker’s skillset. Their star target man remains such a game-changing presence that a substitute’s role appears within reason for Sunday, however.
“We wanted to keep the environment as safe as possible for as long as possible and hope that functionally he can can do everything we ask of him,” explained Vanney. “And then at some point we’ve got to see what it looks like on the soccer field. Hopefully that will be between tomorrow and Friday and Saturday, and then game time we’ll see where we’re at.
“Hopefully miracles can come true, as he said. But we know he’s putting in a lot of work and the guys around him are putting in a lot of work. So I know it will take a lot to keep him out of the team on the weekend, in the biggest game of the year,” Vanney continued
Vanney was asked whether the artificial-turf surface at CenturyLink Field could influence TFC’s Altidore-based decision-making.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “The one thing you can say about turf is it’s consistent. This time of year, if you think back to [the] 2017 final on our field, the field tears up when it’s soft and that can sometimes be more challenging on a quad – you think the field’s going to be there and it slips out from under you, those things can sometimes be more challenging.
“So I don’t really think the field plays a factor, it will really be whether he can strike the ball the way he needs to and sprint at top speed and deal with the soccer challenges more than any of the field or weather challenges or anything like that.”