Toronto's Gonzalez fit for MLS Cup, Altidore's availability less certain
SEATTLE — Toronto FC manager Greg Vanney said defender Omar Gonzalez is “physically ready” to take part in Sunday’s MLS Cup final against the Seattle Sounders, but that it remains to be seen if forward Jozy Altidore will recover in time to take part.
Both players have missed the entirety of the MLS Cup playoffs. Gonzalez sustained a hamstring injury just prior to the regular-season finale against the Columbus Crew on Oct. 6, while Altidore suffered a quad injury in the match.
Despite the absences, TFC have barely missed a beat during the playoffs, winning both the Eastern Conference semifinal and final on the road. Laurent Ciman has ably replaced Gonzalez in the center of Toronto’s defense, while Vanney has opted to use Alejandro Pozuelo as a false nine in place of Altidore. Gonzalez is the furthest along in terms of his recovery, and was on the bench for Toronto’s Eastern Conference final triumph over Atlanta United.
“Omar is good, he’s physically ready,” Vanney told ESPN in an exclusive interview. “He was on the bench last game. He hadn’t really trained full enough for us to be certain that he was 100 percent ready. He’s been able to accomplish that because there’s been more time between games. He’s physically in a good spot.”
Gonzalez was in an ebullient mood as he looks to claim the eighth championship trophy of his career at club level, and believes he’ll be able to shake off any accumulated rust.
“I’m feeling great, feeling 110 percent,” he said. “Sure, I haven’t been part of the playoff run, but I’ve been in plenty of these types of games. I know what it takes, I have the experience, and ultimately if Greg chooses to go with me, I’ll be ready.”
The odds seem much longer for Altidore. Vanney admitted that TFC’s training staff has been trying to keep the veteran forward “in a safe spot” and has yet to train with the team, although they will make one last push to see if Altidore can play.
“[We] keep throwing new things at him that he has to accomplish physically; high-speed running, changes of direction, things like that,” Vanney said about Altidore. “He hasn’t really played soccer yet with the team. That’s something we’ll have to do over the next couple of days, and see how he reacts and see if he’s ready. We don’t really know yet if he’ll get all the way there, but he’s doing well in terms of accomplishing all the physical things that have been put his way. We’ll see. That’s where we’re at. I’m hopeful. I always am hopeful, I’m an optimist at heart. I hope he can be there.”
As for Altidore, he’s taking a wait-and-see approach to see how he reacts over the next few days.
“I’m just on the field doing movement stuff, just trying to see what I can tolerate, what I can’t tolerate; what hurts, what doesn’t hurt,” he said. “People think this is gamesmanship, I honestly don’t know, I’m just trying to do everything and [have] it not hurt. That’s the key: When everything doesn’t hurt, then you can take the step with the team and start doing stuff with the team, but until then medically they’re not going to let you do anything. We’ll see, we’ll see; got a couple more days.”
Altidore said having to watch the postseason has been bittersweet. He would obviously prefer to be on the field, but has been impressed at what his teammates have achieved in his absence.
“It’s hard to watch but it’s not hard to watch,” he said. “I feel proud because I watch these guys on the field go through these moments, like Tsubasa Endoh. When I first saw Tsubasa he was a kid out of Maryland, scrawny, trying to find himself in the professional world, and I think back to him — they released him, and he stayed and trained every day. When I see him now doing what he’s doing, I have no words, I’m just so happy because that is a testament to the work we’ve all done the past five years.
“Guys like that are not able to play pivotal roles in big games, same for Marky Delgado, Jonathan Osorio, seeing these guys grow, for me, it makes me the happiest, I swear to you. Just being a part of that growth, it feels good. They’re a part of my growth, and to see it reciprocated, it feels great.”