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Toronto FC will try to turn the season around with Altidore still not out the door

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Toronto FC were hoping to be walking on sunshine by this point of the MLS season. Instead, they’re walking on eggshells.

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The under-performing Reds, who sit one point out of last place in the MLS Eastern Conference (1W 2D 4L) heading back into action this Saturday, held a media call on Monday for the first time in about two weeks and the majority of questions fired at GM Ali Curtis and coach Chris Armas had to do with the status of veteran forward Jozy Altidore.

“It’s complicated,” said Curtis. “He’s a player who’s been here for seven seasons, so there’s a lot of layers there.”

Neither Curtis nor Armas would come out and say exactly why Altidore’s future with the club seems to be coming to an end or why Altidore is still working out on his own in Orlando away from his teammates. The outspoken forward has landed in hot water in the past for criticizing the front office, but surely there is more to his current banishment than just him having words with Armas after being taken out of the game against Orlando City on May 22. Rumours surfaced earlier in the year that Altidore wants out of Toronto and that the club would be happy to oblige. But Curtis and Armas revealed very little in terms of what the “real” situation is with the club’s second all-time leading scorer, saying that it’s important to keep those conversations in-house.

“We spent a lot of time during this international break thinking about what makes sense for this team to have success, what makes sense for Jozy to have success moving forward,” said Curtis, who talked to Altidore’s agent on Friday. “Those conversations are not complete. It’s complicated. There’s a lot there, not just from a sporting perspective and a financial perspective, but from an emotional perspective.

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“We want to transparent and fair,” the GM added. “(This is) an opportunity to really reflect on what makes sense for Jozy and what makes sense for the club moving forward.”

When asked if he was concerned that the controversy could affect team morale, especially with the younger players who look up to the Altidore, Curtis replied: “Soccer is a team sport and it’s not about one individual and the focus is not just on Jozy. It’s on the team. You want every player to want to be part of the team. It’s a beautiful city with great fans, we have an unbelievable stadium that we can’t wait to get back to. We’re hungry to try to win a trophy. We have a fantastic team. We do our best as a club to try to support and take care of our players in a way that I think is unprecedented – the best in Major League Soccer. We have a tremendous amount of resources and (put) everything into the team and we’re going to continue that so we can achieve our objectives and goals and succeed. I hope everyone wants to be part of that.”

Curtis said having reigning MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo back playing will be “a game changer” for the club.

“Trophies are not won in the first six, seven games of the season,” he said. “They’re won in the middle, they’re won at the end and we’re excited about that. We’ve got to find a way to come together as a club, as a team, such that we achieve our goals that we set early on. We’re excited about the 80% of the rest of the season.”

Pozuelo returned to action in TFC’s last game, a 2-1 loss to Columbus Crew on May 29, and played 35 minutes off the bench, after being out with a thigh injury since the start of the season. He returned to Spain to visit his wife and two sons, Alejandro Jr. and Alvaro, during the break but is now back training with the club in Orlando. During the break, his wife Beatriz gave birth to the couple’s third son. But while Armas said the team is getting healthier all the time, there are still some major roster holes heading into Saturday’s match against Orlando City. Winger Yeferson Soteldo picked up a knock on May 22 against Orlando and is likely out for Saturday’s game, though he is back with the club doing rehab. And, of course, Altidore will not play. That’s two out of the club’s three DP’s not dressing.

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LOST IN TRANSLATION
Last week, an interview with Quentin Westberg on the French news outlet Actufoot surfaced that appeared to depict the veteran goalkeeper as being unhappy and frustrated. Apparently something was lost in translation. Curtis said Westberg’s so-called negative comments were “miss-characterized”.

“Quentin is a great professional and he’s a good goalkeeper,” said Curtis. “It was a really difficult pre-season, especially for Quentin and his family. Not going to share all the different details, but they went through a lot and they were suffering. Now they’re down here in Orlando and things are better.”

Westberg’s was the club’s No.1 keeper the last two seasons, but Alex Bono has started every game so far this year.

RETURN TO BMO ON THE HORIZON?
Curtis is excited about the prospect of the Reds returning to Toronto to play home games at BMO Field in the wake of Ontario Sports Minister Lisa MacLeod’s announcement on Monday that the province will be loosening COVID-19 restrictions for professional and elite amateur sport. However, Toronto’s pro teams, other than the Argonauts, have to cross the U.S. borders during a regular season and international border restrictions are a federal responsibility. The Reds are currently training and playing home games in Orlando.

SBuffery@postmedia.com
Twitter @Beezersun

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