Is Jozy Altidore back? Is he enough to push Toronto over the top?

Toronto travels to Philly and the LA Galaxy venture out east to face NYCFC in the biggest MLS games of the weekend.

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SiriusXM Editor
August 19, 2016

Jozy Altidore, who in the past was the future of the US National Team, is back from a hamstring injury. He has been rehabbing. He has been lifting (oh, has he been lifting). And in the past few games for Toronto, the 26-year-old has been scoring and passing and dribbling.

As Matthew Doyle wrote in his MLS column, this is very good – and somewhat unsurprising – news if you’re American. Nobody has given quite the same sort of production as Altidore in the national team. Now that he’s a veteran, he provides a set of broad shoulders that all of those fun young wingers and strikers – your Bobby Woods, your Christian Pulisices – can zip off of.

But there’s still a few weeks before World Cup Qualification starts up again. This is time for Jozy to get settled if you’re an optimist, or him to tweak his hamstring again if all the milk in your life has truly curdled.

It is definitely time enough for Altidore to have a striker-off with the man who has spent the past five years in the national-teamer’s giant shadow. On Saturday, Toronto will visit Philadelphia Union (Sirius 85, Internet 85) and their beloved CJ Sapong.

Sapong is a little bit shorter and a good deal lighter than Altidore. He only received two callups to the USMNT, when he was a 23-year-old playing for some of Peter Vermes’ earliest entertaining Sporting KC sides.

It wouldn’t be quite fair to call Sapong a poor man’s Altidore, even if Philly Union are sort of a poor man’s Toronto. Sapong, now 27, seems to relish contact like few other forwards in MLS right now. He also has enough vision to put him a notch above guys like Quincy Amarikwa and Patrick Mullins.

The Philadelphia Union man is a true target forward who can get the ball, hold the ball, and move it to a space where Chris Pontius, Roland Aalberg, or Tranquillo Barnetta can do some damage with it. It can be a bit thankless, but it’s the sort of thing that has kept Philadelphia humming and that Toronto has missed in its start-and-stop first half of the season.

On Saturday, Philadelphia will be trying so, so hard to keep Sebastian Giovinco off the ball. Their young defenders are athletic but are almost certain to lose track of the reigning MVP at a few points. If Altidore can get the ball and find him in space; that is, if Jozy can be a bit more like CJ Sapong for a day, then Toronto can come away from the Delaware River with a win. And Altidore may be able to come into September looking like the all-everything forward everyone in America has wanted him to be…for years.

The Toronto-Philadelphia match is the most interesting of the weekend but if you want to be all conspiratorial about the league, it’s not the one MLS wants you to watch. That would be LA Galaxy coming up to the Bronx to play NYCFC earlier on Saturday (Sirius 85, Internet 85).

The Galaxy against the Pigeons is a bit of a matchup of contrasts. Los Angeles is conquering the world in goal differential, but somehow haven’t looked very good. New York City are on top of the East, but nobody seems to believe they will stay there.

The cozy confines of Yankee Stadium might make it easier for New York City to clamp down on everything Bruce Arena’s Galaxy love to do. Ugly is better for Vieira’s side, even if it doesn’t make for riveting Saturday afternoon viewing. Getting LA after a cross-country flight, on a weird field, at an early hour may be enough for NYCFC to add the rare West Coast scalp to their belt. At the very least, it’s a chance for California audiences to peep the conceptual genius that is the Bobby Mac show. There may not be a winger in the league who is less like the speedy former West Ham prospect Sebastian Lletget

The West’s most compelling matchup is Portland visiting Seattle on Sunday night (Sirius 85, Internet 85). Neither side has been particularly great all year. The Sounders have been downright bad at times, and Portland has yet to win away from Providence Park.

Seattle might be –or, must be – better now that Nicolas Lodiero is pulling strings in the midfield. Portland did the same sort of swoon around the same sort of time last season before going on to win the Cup. All of that said, a loss by either side here may be enough to put the kibosh on their 2016 season. Both teams have serious defensive deficiencies and forwards (Jordan Morris, Fanendo Adi) who can take advantage of lapses.

If you want to watch great strikers take advantage of space, then by all means the battle of the greenies is the one for you. But if you want to watch great teams take advantage of their brilliant strikers, then Toronto and Philadelphia is the one for you. Jozy Altidore could be ascendant, once again. All he has to do is outshine his longtime understudy, if he can manage it.