- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

TORONTO (AP) - Jozy Altidore may never have to buy a drink again in Toronto.

It’s a theory that may already have been tested, judging from his woozy performance at Toronto FC’s victory parade Monday.

“I just want to let you guys know that I’ve been partying since Saturday,” Altidore said to the crowd

“And baby I’m TFC ‘til I die’,” he added before dropping the microphone and starting an impromptu dance with his teammates.

After mixed success playing abroad, the 28-year-old U.S. star has found his happy place in Toronto.

“It’s got my back and then some,” he said. “It’s great.”

While it was likely a good thing the MLS Cup MVP was not operating heavy machinery, it was hard not to feel his joy at celebrating the championship win with his adopted city. It was a far cry from last Thursday when a taciturn Altidore made like he had only brought a dozen words or so with him to a pre-MLS Cup news conference.

Toronto teammates say the real Altidore is good company.

Jozy is the most fun-loving, happy-go-lucky guy that I’ve ever been around,” defender Drew Moor said.

Away from the spotlight, Altidore will turn on his mega-watt smile. But he clearly is no fan of being in the limelight.

If he can skip the media side of the job, so much the better. And reporters covering Toronto FC have learned that while Altidore is happy to talk up teammates, he has no interest in discussing his own exploits.

But in recent weeks, Altidore has opened up about how he has grown to love Toronto and its fans.

“It’s no secret personally before I came to Toronto, my life was in a lot of ways not great,” he told reporters in his end-of-season availability this week. “A lot of that comes down to me, growing up as a young kid, just learning how to be a man.

“But this place took me in and made me a man. Toronto made me a man. It helped me in so many ways that you guys will probably never know. So I’m eternally grateful to this city and I hope it’s a relationship that doesn’t end any time soon.”

Altidore joined Toronto in January 2015 after an 18-month stint with Sunderland, with England striker Jermain Defoe going the other way.

Altidore can outmuscle most defenders. But he also has a deft touch, allowing him to connect with teammates. Despite those skills, Altidore’s time at Sunderland did not go as planned. He scored just once in 42 Premier League appearances (three goals in 52 appearances in all competitions). And he heard all about it.

Jozy Altidore’s European career: a badly advised, confidence sapping failure” was the Guardian’s headline around the time of the TFC transfer.

In today’s intrusive social media world, Altidore still hears it from all sides.

Away from soccer, Altidore dates tennis star Sloane Stephens and dotes on a young son from a previous relationship. Instagram photos of the little guy are usually tagged “What a blessing.”

One such photo, honoring his son’s third birthday, drew a comment that said: “What a trash player that cost us the World Cup. You’re pure disgrace.”

Altidore and Toronto captain Michael Bradley, his longtime U.S. teammate/skipper, were targeted with abuse for the Americans’ failed World Cup campaign by rival fans in the final away game of the regular season in Atlanta and the road legs of playoff series against the New York Red Bulls and Columbus.

At Red Bull Arena, one abusive fan even questioned his patriotism. Raised a Jehovah’s Witness, Altidore does not put his hand on his heart during the U.S. anthem.

“It’s just crazy in the sports world - not even the sports world, the world in general - how people love to wait for a bad day or one of your downfalls to come out and kind of dance on your grave,” Altidore said. “It’s kind of sad what society has become.”

Anyone doubting Altidore’s allegiance should look at his commitment to the U.S. national team - 110 caps and 41 goals.

In 2017, he became second-youngest player in U.S. team history to reach 100 caps (at 27 years, 84 days) before becoming just the third U.S. international to hit the 40-goal mark. He also tied Clint Dempsey as the career U.S. scorer in World Cup qualifying with 18.

The MLS Cup win was a chance to answer some of his critics, while fulfilling dreams discussed over “hours and hours” with Bradley, who helped convince Altidore to take a chance on Toronto.

“We’ve been on the field on so many big days together - good days, bad days,” Bradley said. “And as I said after the (MLS Cup final), when push comes to shove he’s a guy that I want by my side every step of the way.”

Altidore has stepped up at key moments, further endearing him to Toronto fans.

In Toronto, he has 38 goals and 11 assists in 75 regular-season games. Last season, he became the first player to score in five straight MLS playoff games. This year, his two postseason goals proved to be the winner in both the Eastern Conference final against Columbus and MLS Cup final against Seattle.

Altidore’s immediate future involves spending time with his family. His sister is getting married Saturday.

“Then getting ready for next year,” he said. “If anything makes you hungry, it’s winning and having that kind of reception from the city. It just makes you want to have it again.”


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