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Toronto FC gains certainty with acquisition of American striker Altidore

01/16/2015 10:54 EST | Updated 03/18/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - He might not have the sizzle of a Jermain Defoe but striker Jozy Altidore gives Toronto FC something the highly touted English star striker could not — certainty.

Toronto FC unveiled Altidore, a New Jersey native, as its newest designated player Friday at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto acquired Altidore and cash considerations from Sunderland of England's Premier League, agreeing to transfer Defoe to the Black Cats just one year after obtaining him from Tottenham.

Altidore, 25, is no stranger to MLS. He played for the New York Red Bulls from 2006 to 2008 before being sold to Spain's Villarreal for a transfer fee of about US$10 million.

"It's a project in MLS," Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko said. "There's a lot of travel, there's a lot of games and you've got to be up for it.

"It's not like you're getting on a train and going down to the match at noon and getting back in your own bed at night. You've got to be willing, really willing, to take on this, it's almost like a crusade. In Jozy we're getting a player who knows all that, there's more certainty and so for us that's the most attractive thing about this deal."

Toronto FC manager Tim Vanney agreed.

"Jozy understands the challenges of Major League Soccer," he said. "He understands what this league is about.

"With that, we get some certainty with Jozy."

And unlike Defoe, Altidore will be playing soccer much closer to home, making it more likely he'll want to stay put.

"I am committed long-term to making this franchise something special," Altidore said. "I'm very excited to get started."

Altidore also received a hearty welcome Friday from Toronto Mayor John Tory.

"Welcome to Toronto JozyAltidore - Wishing you & torontofc success in 2015!" Tory tweeted.

Toronto pulled out all stops last year to lure Defoe, even enlisting Toronto Raptors global ambassador Drake to bend the England striker's ear. And when Defoe signed, Toronto FC trumpeted the move with a marketing campaign titled "It's A Bloody Big Deal."

A double-decker bus was parked outside the news conference where Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, touted the signing of what TFC billed as a "global football superstar."

Defoe, 32, began his Toronto career with a bang, scoring three goals in the club's first two games. But he also struggled with injuries as well as adjusting to life in the MLS, finishing with 11 goals in 19 games as Toronto FC (11-15-8) missed the playoffs for the eighth straight year.

Still, Bezbatchenko said Toronto FC's gamble to acquire Defoe was certainly worth it.

"We're not an organization that's afraid to think outside the box so we go out and we take risks," Bezbatchenko said. "Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don't but that's football at the highest level.

"In the end we're excited where we are today and we're looking forward to the next chapter."

Altidore failed to establish himself as a regular with Villarreal and spent time on loan to Xerez, Hull and Bursaspor before being sold the Netherlands' AZ Alkmaar. Altidore set the record for goals by an American in a European club season with 31 for AZ in 2012-13, then was sold to Sunderland, where he had just one goal in 40 league appearances.

"As a professional you're going to go through times where everything is not so great," Altidore said. "I think in those times how you react to those moments will define you.

"For me, it was very difficult obviously for a number of reasons, on and off the field, for my time in England . . . but I was still able when I represented the national team to perform at the highest level. Now I was faced with the opportunity of joining a franchise where I'd have an opportunity to keep growing as a player and obviously to get better. That was the most important thing for me and Toronto gave me the opportunity and I took it with both hands."

Vanney believes Altidore will regain his scoring touch in Toronto. Altidore has earned 76 caps with the American national squad, scoring 25 goals, and Friday was added to the U.S. training camp roster before exhibition contests against Chile and Panama.

"He will score goals, I have no concern about that," Vanney said. "I have no doubt he's going to be a great player and arguably the best striker in the league."

Altidore certainly won't have to shoulder the expectations Defoe did last year as American midfielder Michael Bradley — who Bezbatchenko acknowledged played a role in the Altidore deal — is now expected to be the face of the franchise. Bradley, also a DP, arrived here with Defoe in January 2014.

Altidore and Bradley are very familiar with each other. They grew up together and have been teammates on various American national teams, including now with the senior men's squad.

"Canada, who would've thought it, huh?" Altidore said with a chuckle. "That's the thing about life, you never know what you're going to get the next day."

Brazilian striker Gilberto is Toronto's third designated player. In the wake of Defoe's departure, Vanney said he wants DPs who are committed to the club.

"We want our DPs to want to be here and be connected to each other so that we can build around them and we get that with Jozy and Michael," Vanney said.

"They have a relationship that's second to none. Having those two connected together, the addition of Gilberto, we're starting to get to the point where our three best players need to be our three best players and complement one another and then we can build with those three players."

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