Here is why this could be the year we see Jozy Altidore play the best football of his career for both club and country.
Jozy Altidore has gotten 2016 started on the right path. In two international friendlies, he netted crucial goals in both games to help his team to victory. And knowing that he will be having plenty of opportunities this year for both club and country, this may be the year that we see Altidore play the best football of his career.
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And yes, he did score 51 goals over two seasons in the Eredivisie. But the level of competition is better now and he will be competing in major tournaments. Not only is a playoff berth a virtual must for Toronto, but Altidore knows that he’ll get to showcase his talents in the Copa America Centenario. And since that will take place three months into the season, he will want to start scoring right away.
Already in the United States’ opening friendlies, his teammates have noticed that he came in with a different mentality. He was hungrier, more confident, and approached both games with an added intensity. He garnered praise from his coaching staff when they commented on his weight loss during the offseason:
If Jozy Altidore seemed leaner today it’s because he has lost more than 10 pounds, getting leaner to try and cut down on muscle injuries
— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) February 1, 2016
“He came in very good shape, very positive and good spirit and was determined to get 2016 started in the right way.” – JK on Jozy #USAvISL
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) January 31, 2016
While it’s not a direct correlation per se, getting his body in shape was a sign that he came in with an extra desire to win. A player that draws comparisons is when Kyle Lowry lost over 15 pounds in the offseason, coming in leaner and more well-equipped to handle a heavier workload. It’s translated directly to his play on the court, as Lowry has been putting up consistently high numbers despite being fourth in the league in minutes and has helped propel the Raptors to second in the Eastern Conference. Everyone, from his teammates to ESPN, has noticed the change and the positive impact it has had on his overall game.
The fact that Altidore slimmed down for two friendlies tells you all you need to know about his new mentality. He is looking to approach every game the same way, and that won’t be lost on his teammates. But I’m not here to tell you that Altidore will light up the scoresheets because he lost some weight. He’s also looking to do away with the parts of his game that have earned him his fair share of criticism.
He often gets criticized for “disappearing in big matches” and being too soft on the ball. Well already, he has scored a game-winner against Canada and in both games has created quality chances by demonstrating his physicality against opposing defenders. And after the Canada game, this is what Klinsmann had to say about him, via MLSSoccer.com:
Good energy, he’s hungry, he wants to prove himself that this is 2016, “This is my year. He knows there’s a huge [Copa America] tournament coming up in June, so he started really on the right foot this year. And he deserved that goal; he deserved it.
You have to think that nobody is hungrier for the Copa America on that United States squad than Jozy Altidore. He’s felt as though he let his team down twice in a row now, when he picked up an injury in the first game of the World Cup and in the Gold Cup when poor play got him released from the team before the knockout round. When Altidore hasn’t been 100%, his team has suffered and he is determined to come into the tournament fully healthy and prepared to take on every challenge.
As for Toronto FC, he’ll be equally as motivated to improve upon his numbers last season and help contribute to a, fingers crossed, deep playoff run. His stats were by no means a disaster – he had 14 goals in 27 appearances – but they certainly leave room for improvement. There also might not be a better chance to win than this coming season. And despite all that, although it sounds strange, the pressure will be off of him.
When he came to the team last year, he was the first major acquisition and big things were expected of him – moreso when he hit a brace in his first game and doubled his Premier League total. But heading into this year, everyone will be so focused on Giovinco and whether he can duplicate his MVP season – and his preseason so far has indicated that he’s certainly capable of it – that Altidore will be able to quietly rack up the goals alongside him. And with Klinsmann scouting who he can bring with him to the Copa America, Altidore will certainly want to reaffirm his status in the starting lineup. So expect Jozy to come into the start of the season with a lot of momentum and have it continue on past the tournament.
Perhaps the most important thing to note about Jozy Altidore is his age: he’s still only 26. This is usually when people start hitting their prime, and if Altidore is able to elevate his performances this year, TFC fans should rest assured know that it won’t be a one-off. Plus knowing what lies ahead, there may not come a better time when he will want to silence his critics. Confidence breeds success, and we will see a very confident Jozy Altidore out on the pitch this season.