The Jozy Altidore situation is getting more intriguing.
Late in January at the U.S. national team camp, American head coach Gregg Berhalter decided to hold Altidore out of a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago because of an injury and (according to Berhalter) there was a possible transfer looming. There were numerous reports at the time that other clubs, in other leagues, were interested in the Toronto FC veteran. Altidore answered those rumours on his Twitter account with: “Don’t believe everything you read. The devil is working overtime.”
Toronto FC management has refused to talk about whether Altidore wants out, at least on the record. When pressed if he knew anything about Altidore being unhappy in T.O., new TFC head coach Chris Armas expressed some exasperation, starting an answer with: “This is the last thing I’ll say about Jozy …”
In other words, don’t ask him anything more on the topic.
But one thing is for certain — if the 31-year-old Altidore does want a change of scenery, he’s not forcing his hand by lollygagging or pouting on the field during pre-season camp in Toronto.
Armas has nothing but praise for Altidore, adding that the Livingston, N.J.. native has “worked his a– off” at camp.
“When you see the way he shows up every day, I can just say this: I see a professional every single day that’s focussed on winning and preparing — a guy that’s running for the team and, again, he looks to get better every day,” Armas said Monday. “That’s what I’m seeing right now. And we’re off to a really good start in terms of a team (getting together) and then some of the relationships — player to player, player to coach, coach to player — that’s going to help us drive this forward. I’m seeing a winner every day and commit big-time to the team and to himself.”
Still, there have been whispers that TFC would be pleased to accommodate Altidore if they could pull the trigger on a move, though it’s seems foolhardy to make a deal now — unless a Designated Player of similar scoring acumen is on his way to the club. The Canadian Championship final against Forge FC is, according to Armas, just 2 1/2 – 3 weeks away (March 20 has been kicked around, though a firm date has yet to be set). Position-wise, two of TFC’s talented young strikers are injured — Ayo Akinola (undisclosed) and Ifunanyachi Achara (knee) — and almost certainly will not be ready to play against Forge FC and Achara will probably not be healthy enough to open the regular season on April 17. Armas has Altidore and veteran Patrick Mullins at the forward spot.
“We’ll have some flexibility. We can play two strikers,” said Armas. “Pat Mullins looks settled right now. He tells me he feels the most settled in his life personally than he’s ever been, and I can see on the pitch every day he looks clear and he’s been dangerous.”
Armas said the coaching staff is waiting for medical clearance in Akinola’s case, and they are hoping he will be back sometime in mid-March.
“Achara is progressing really well but we have to take that step-by-step and not skip anything in the (healing) process because we need him to come back and not look back,” said Armas.
The coach said winger Tsubasa Endoh is also recovering from an injury, while veterans Nick DeLeon and Auro are just coming off quarantine.
One of the questions marks heading into pre-sesaon camp this year was: What is Armas going to do with 24-year-old midfidler Erickson Gallardo? The Venezuela international joined the club with some fanfare in 2019 but has only appeared in 10 matches over two seasons and has been a bit of a disappointment. GM Ali Curtis told the Toronto Sun a couple of weeks ago that nothing is off the table in terms of what they might do with Gallardo this season, including a possible loan deal. But Armas was very complimentary about what Gallardo has brought to camp.
“He’s had a good start,” said the coach. “He’s embracing what’s being asked of him, to play free without the ball and trust his instincts because he’s an aggressive player naturally. But we’re trying to create more clarity for him and utilize his weapons, his ability to run and challenge back lines and we see something there. Jacob Shaffelburg, the same. He’s looking dangerous. (And) Jayden Nelson is off to a really good start.”
There have been numerous reports in the U.K. media recently suggesting that some of the biggest clubs in Europe have expressed interest in 16-year-old TFC youngster Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty. Armas said on Monday that he can easily see why that is.
“He’s an intelligent player,” said Armas. “He’s quick in his mind, he’s quick with his feet. His personality and nature … he’s a competitor, but he’s a team guy. He’s got such good starting points. His feet don’t get in the way. His feet and brain … they’re connected there.
“It goes back to when you talk about young players, often times it’s the mentality – some young guys you see out there, they show up like they’ve arrived,” Armas added. “He’s got a really good chance to do well for himself. He’s got some good mentors around him, some good leaders to watch and learn from and we will help him along the way.Yeah, he’s off to good start.”
Armas said that Marshall-Rutty has already shown that he can play at “any of the attacking spots.”
“He’s a bright young talent, that’s for sure,” said the coach.