Asked afterward whether Jozy Altidore is still somehow underrated around Major League Soccer, Toronto FC teammate Michael Bradley only smirked and offered a curt nod, as if the answer was so obvious the question needn’t even be asked.
Bradley could have just gestured back down the tunnel toward the field, where Altidore had been so dominant throughout Toronto’s 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field on Saturday.
The result was significant as the opposite of last year’s MLS Cup final. It was also illustrative of how TFC has improved since that meeting last December, and how Seattle still has a ways to go if it wants to approach the heights that inspired its first-ever championship run.
Toronto flooded the midfield in Saturday’s rematch. With red shirts in their faces, the Sounders never looked comfortable, and, even without several regular starters – including star attacker Sebastian Giovinco – TFC controlled the tempo of the game.
And its well-rounded performance all started with Altidore.
“We tried to make Jozy the focal point as the lone striker, allowing him to play a little bit more central,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said.
That allowed Vanney to commit numbers elsewhere in a fluid 5-4-1 formation and create mismatches. Altidore’s ability to both soak up attention and hold up the ball for reinforcements shaped the game. Oh, and he scored, too, setting up, winning and converting the go-ahead penalty kick midway through the first half.
Altidore’s head-to-head showdown with muscular Sounders defender Roman Torres was one of the key matchups during MLS Cup. With Torres still not totally 100 percent due to injury, though, Altidore was just a step ahead. The Panamanian defender was the one who gave away the PK, letting Altidore get between he and goal before barreling him over from behind.
“I don’t think there’s a center back in the league that enjoys playing against him,” Bradley said of his fellow United States men’s national team member.
Altidore has now scored six goals and recorded three assists in 10 games this season. But as Saturday proved, even those numbers touch on only part of his overall impact.
It was one of those weekends around the league. Running down the list of results feels very, very MLS. The Portland Timbers, who led the Western Conference prior to Sporting Kansas City’s midweek win over the New York Red Bulls, got blasted 3-0 on Saturday in San Jose. Sporting itself topped the table for only a few days, falling to don’t-look-now-but-it-might-be-respectable Minnesota United on Sunday. Orlando City followed a four-game winning streak with two losses in four days, the latter of which was a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Houston Dynamo. Four road teams were outright winners in a league where home teams typically hold serve. Just when you think MLS is starting to make sense, it’ll produce a run of results like this one that only leave you even more baffled than you were before.
Somebody go check on D.C. United’s attack. D.C. was shut out for the fifth time in nine games on Saturday, falling 1-0 at home to fellow Eastern Conference straggler Montreal Impact. DCU always manages to do just enough to edge over that playoff cutoff line in the end, but unless it can find some kind of spark in the final third, this could be a long season in the nation’s capital.
The only team in MLS who has scored fewer goals than D.C.? You can probably even guess this one without even peeking. The answer: Colorado Rapids, who have managed a dreadful four goals in eight matches. The Rapids, who lost 1-0 at home to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Friday night, very much look like a team reverting to form after a charmed 2016. The defending conference runners-up have lost five in a row.
Save of the Week
Stefan Frei, Seattle Sounders.
There was a bit of déjà vu to Frei’s acrobatic stop of a goal-bound Altidore shot near halftime of Saturday’s game. Just like in his iconic save in extra time of last year’s title game, Frei flung himself at full stretch to his left to touch the ball wide of the frame.
Runner-up: Alexander Bono, Toronto FC. Orlando City forward Cyle Larin looked certain to tie their midweek match up at two after the keeper only slightly defected his initial effort. But just as Larin lunged to tap into an empty net, a backtracking Bono came out of nowhere to swipe the ball clear of danger.
Goal Celebration of the Week
C.J. Sapong, Philadelphia Union. There wasn’t a whole lot to Sapong’s reaction to his second of three goals against the Red Bulls, but its cool nonchalance was part of the appeal. Having backpedaled to get his head on a bouncing cross, Sapong just kept on backpedaling, all the way toward the corner flag where he was swarmed by leaping teammates.
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) May 7, 2017
Goal of the week
Maxi Urruti, FC Dallas.
This doubles as the early frontrunner for Most Disrespectful Goal of the Year. With Dallas already leading Salt Lake 2-0 in stoppage time – on the road, I might add – Urruti chipped the ball over RSL goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel to himself before finishing with vicious ambivalence into an empty net.
Matt Pentz covers Major League Soccer for FC Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.