By CLIFF STARKEY
WASHINGTON—When Jozy Altidore left the field clutching his hamstring on May 16, Toronto FC fans—and USA fans—must have thought they were experiencing déjà vu.
Just like in last year’s World Cup opener against Ghana, Altidore left the game early, wincing in pain, leaving fans wondering if he’d be back in time to make the USA’s Gold Cup squad for the country’s first game against Honduras on July 7.
Just three weeks later, they got their answer.
An hour before Toronto FC’s game Saturday night in Washington, DC, the lineups were announced. Altidore was on the bench. In the 82nd minute, with Toronto FC chasing a win, Altidore came on the field. Although he didn’t play long, his clever dummy set up Sebastian Giovinco’s winning strike.
“It felt good,” Altidore said after the match. “It felt great to be back. I love to be playing.”
Reports from earlier in the week indicated that Altidore had indeed returned to training with the team, but returning to training and returning to match fitness are two different matters. Altidore knew the risks of returning early, but said that he wanted to get back on the field as soon as possible.
“I felt really good this week, and I told [Toronto FC Head Coach Greg Vanney] that if you need me, I’d be here.”
Altidore knows the Gold Cup is coming soon, and said that United States National Team Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been closely monitoring his star forward. Before Altidore made the trip to RFK, he cleared it with his national team coach.
“[Contacting Klinsmann was] one of the first things I did,” Altidore said. “[I told Klinsmann] ‘look, I feel really good, and I’m thinking about going to DC and playing in that game, because the team needs me.’”
Despite his history with this injury, Altidore said that he knew this time was different.
“I always felt from the start of the injury that it wasn’t anything major,” Altidore said. “The scan didn’t show [serious damage]—I had to take my time, but I thought it was good. Obviously I had to be cautious.”
Now, just like those same fans that winced along with him just three weeks ago, Altidore is looking to his national team future—but stresses that he expects to leave Toronto FC in good shape, despite his planned absence.
“At the end of the day, playing for your country is an amazing thing,” Altidore said. “Hopefully, the idea is to leave Toronto with seven points or so (over the next three games), and you leave knowing the team’s in a good spot.”
Toronto FC has next week off, and Altidore says he will be “definitely one hundred percent” for their next game against NYCFC on June 20.
“After that, I’ll be good to go. I’m looking forward to it.”