TORONTO — Containing Jozy Altidore is not a one-man job. He’s too big, too strong, too technical to simply man-mark. His game is too refined and, at this point in the season, he’s too hot to expect him to be a non-factor in any single game.
The Seattle Sounders are well aware of the threat Altidore brings, and they’re prepared to counter that with two physically imposing and technically proficient weapons of their own.
Centerbacks Chad Marshall and Roman Torres will be tasked with stifling Altidore, who has ran rampant throughout the postseason. In his last nine games, Altidore has fired eight goals, finding form at the perfect time for a TFC team that has benefited greatly in the form of a postseason push.
With Sebastian Giovinco buzzing behind him, Altidore is a weapon, one which is certainly a focal point for the TFC attack. The U.S. Men’s National Team defender’s hold-up ability opens doors for Giovinco and the rest of the TFC attack, while his finishing provides the end product needed to take advantage of the Italian’s playmaking ability. That puts pressure on Torres and Marshall to step up and face a challenge unique in MLS play.
“You have to be physical right back with him,” Marshall said of Altidore. “He’s someone who uses his strength and speed and we need to match him. We need to be up his behind the whole game to make sure he’s taking tough touches so he isn’t able to link their team. Knowing where they are at all times, him and Giovinco love to move, and the swarming defense they play, Michael (Bradley) pinging balls in, you have to know where they are because it takes just one long ball to catch you.
“He’s the type of forward that makes you have to be more concentrated than usual because you know he’s a player that is going to move quickly, that is going to use his strength,” Torres added. “You have to be fully concentrated and organized.”
Since rejoining MLS as a member of Toronto FC, Altidore has not had an opportunity to face the Sounders. The 26-year-old forward missed this summer’s matchup due to a hamstring injury after remaining as an unused substitute when this year’s MLS Cup finalists collided in September of 2015.
When he does take the field on Saturday, though, Altidore is set to collide with two titans in their own right. Torres, a frequent starter for the Panama national team, certainly possesses the strength to go toe-to-toe with Altidore. It’s a blessing that few centerbacks in MLS have, and Altidore has made a habit of exploiting that fact in recent weeks. The TFC forward has routinely bullied his way through backlines, but simply muscling past Torres will be no easy feat.
Next to the Panamanian defender will be Marshall, a man the Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer simply described as “a three-time MLS Defender of the Year,” needing no further words to truly explain just how good Marshall can be. The veteran defender remains an integral part of the Sounders backline, providing a calm presence to match his continuous clearances of anything in the air.
Their partnership, Marshall said, was forged almost instantly. The chemistry was there when Torres joined the Sounders in the summer of 2015, but after just four games, injury derailed what looked to be a promising duo. After missing a large chunk of the 2016 season, Torres returned, and his partnership with Marshall didn’t skip a beat. Since the start of October, the Sounders defense has allowed just six goals in nine games.
“It’s going to be a good one,” said Altidore. “Two good players, two good defenders in our league. Chad has a lot of experience, and also Roman with the national team. There will be some good battles I’m sure but collectively, it’s all about how we approach the day.”
TFC head coach Greg Vanney says that Altidore doesn’t necessarily need to provide that goal-scoring touch on Saturday. Vanney cited TFC’s early-season road trip, one which saw Altidore held scoreless for his first nine appearances of 2016. TFC picked up results, though, as Altidore contributed in other ways. With Giovinco around, that’s usually more than enough, and it certainly could be on Saturday.
Vanney says the forward position is a fickle one. The goals are easy, he says, and a forward can play terribly for 89 minutes before becoming a hero by taking advantage of one fleeting moment. Altidore isn’t necessarily about that, he says. Rather, he’s about putting both himself and teammates in positions to succeed.
“It was a matter of time, as a forward, where things start to go right for you for reasons everyone has talked about,” Vanney said. “It doesn’t matter. People start to notice performances but he’s always played great, he’s always performed for this team, he’s always done what needs to be done on the field.
“The reward now is that he’s winning games and scoring goals and enjoying himself and, I’m speaking for him, but he’s enjoying himself. He’s a guy that has competed for this team and that should go noticed whether the ball hits the back of the net or not.”
The battle between Altidore and the Sounders backline will be one to watch. Torres and Marshall won’t be alone, especially with Ozzie Alonso patrolling the midfield in front of them, but there will no doubt be moments where the two will need to step up and battle either Altidore or Giovinco.
Those battles could determine who leaves BMO Field with a trophy in hand.
“I view it as one of the great storylines to this game,” Schmetzer said. “There are a lot of good storylines but Chad and Roman against Jozy is certainly one to watch for. We will try to slow Jozy down with our team, denying service while making sure Chad and Roman get bodies on him and stuff like that. He’s a good player and those matchups, those key matchups, different key moments of the game, they could decide the game.”