Jozy Altidore kicks the ball during training at CenturyLink Field. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
SEATTLE: — Jozy Altidore hopes and wants to play and he feels he can help his team in the MLS Cup final Sunday.
Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney is optimistic that Altidore will be able to aid his team against Seattle Sounders FC.
Whether their hopes and optimism become reality is another matter for the 24th championship game set for CenturyLink Field at 3 p.m. ET (ABC)
For the first time in more than a month, Altidore kicked a ball as the U.S. international striker went through a full practice with the team at the stadium Saturday morning as he tries to put his quad strain behind him. Altidore hasn’t suited up for Toronto FC in more than a month.
“Of course, I always feel I can help the team,” he said. “That’s just me. That’s my personal being. I think any player will tell you the same thing. It’s a final, man. You die for these games. These are the games you play all year for. So, myself and every guy in the locker room want to be on the field.”
During a press conference, Vanney sounded cautiously optimistic that Altidore will be able to play.
“The training staff and Jozy have done everything they could to this point to this point to try to get him ready for this game,” Vanney said. “We were able to get him through some training [Friday] and he was OK coming out of it. This morning, we did we felt as much as we could do. If he comes out of it OK tonight, we’ll see what kind of role, if any, he could play tomorrow.
“He for sure has battled through this injury. I’m still hopeful when he gets up he’ll feel great. He hit a couple of balls today and if there’s nothing really wrong with him, we’ll try to make use of him as much as possible. We’ll see how the day goes, the night goes. So far, I’m encouraged with just the steps he has been able to take so far.”
Altidore did not shoot the ball, “but I did most of everything,” he added. “I feel very good, played with the team and felt great.”
It is probably a long shot that the forward would start and go an hour given his lack of match fitness. If he is deemed ready, Altidore probably would be better suited as a second-half or late game substitute. And playoff games will need a 30-minute extratime if it is tied after 90 minutes.
The 30-year-old striker sounded ready for the news that he won’t even be on the Reds’ bench.
“There’s a lot of guys out there who are fit and have done the work up until this point,” he said. “So, you don’t want to choose somebody who’s not fit and ready to give something over somebody else that who might not be quite there. You’ve got to prove your fitness and try [to tell the coach] that you’re ready to play.”
Given what is at stake, Altidore admitted it has been a difficult week for himself.
“It’s been hard. The emotions have been high,” he said. “This is a big event. This is the big dance. You want to be out there. But at the same time, this is my 14th, 15th year. It’s my job as well to support and make sure the boys are ready to play as a leader on this team. I think we’re right there.”
Regardless if the former Red Bulls attacker is ready to play, Seattle Sounders FC has a Plan A and Plan B ready to be deployed.
“Well, we plan for both,” Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “We plan for Jozy playing and not playing. I’m sure he’s going to be involved in the game at some point. He’s too big of a player. It is a final. I’m sure he’ll be involved in some way shape or form. whether he starts or comes off the bench. That’s Greg’s choice. We’ve planned for both. I think we have a good game plan in place. Even if he doesn’t play, they’re a very dangerous team. They had to go on the road and win a couple of playoff games without Jozy. So, we’ll be prepared for either scenario.”