Jozy Altidore is on top of the soccer world.
The 28-year-old striker for Toronto FC helped make his team the greatest Major League Soccer team in the league’s 22-year-history based on regular season points, and led Toronto to a 2-0 win over the Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup championship last weekend. Altidore was named the MLS Cup MVP.
In a visit this week to Yahoo Finance, he brought the cup along with him, and talked about the significance of the victory for the city of Toronto, and how social media has transformed life in the locker room.
What an MLS title means for Toronto
“It’s huge,” he says. “The city of Toronto has suffered a lot, it’s been a while since we won a championship at any level. It’s been a tough start for them as a [MLS] franchise, and to be there where it all turns around is an amazing feeling.”
Indeed, Toronto’s MLS team debuted in 2007 and had never won it all, until now. The Blue Jays have not won the World Series since 1993, the Maple Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967, and the Raptors have never won an NBA championship or conference title.
Altidore says soccer is particularly well suited to Toronto, “because it’s such a melting pot where you get fans from all around the world. And that’s what makes soccer great. It has something that I think is different than the other sports in Toronto, and it’s only just reaching the beginning.”
In addition to the Toronto squad setting a new record for total season points, Major League Soccer on the whole had a huge year: multiple teams set new in-person attendance records; the league invested in sports merchandiser Fanatics and redesigned its deal with Fanatics to bring more products to fans; and MLS is rapidly expanding, with a new team coming to LA in 2018, and the Columbus, Ohio team mulling a move to Austin, Texas.
For American soccer fans, all of that MLS progress could help distract from the pain of the US Men’s National Team missing out on the 2018 World Cup. Altidore, who is on the US national team, acknowledges it was a major disappointment, but says, “I think it’s rare that you get times to look back and reflect on things, and while we would like to have done it on different circumstances, I think this can be something that US Soccer uses as an opportunity to really analyze things and look at ways to improve.”
Social media in the locker room
Altidore, like many pro athletes these days, has a huge social media presence: 980,000 Twitter followers and 200,000 Instagram followers. He had his phone close at hand as he sat in the Yahoo green room before his interview, and posted to Instagram. So we asked him about something interesting that NFL star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said in an interview on “The NFL Today” on CBS last week: that social media has changed the experience of being in a locker room with your teammates.
“When I came into the locker room in 2004, social media and cellphones and things, guys had them, but when you were in the locker room, you actually talked to your locker-mate, you talked to him about his kids, and you got to know the guys,” Fitzgerald told former NFL coach Bill Cowher. “Now the locker room is a pretty quiet place, because everybody is on Snapchat and Instagram and Twitter, doing their own things.”
We asked Altidore about whether he’s observed the same phenomenon in MLS.
“It actually makes me feel old, because I remember the times when I would walk into the locker room and it’s like, ‘Hey, good morning,’ and guys were having coffee, doing crosswords… Crossword puzzles are a big thing in the MLS community. Anyway, you’d walk into the room, and guys were doing different things, the room was lively,” he says. “Nowadays, you walk in and you look at everybody, and everybody’s like this [looking down at their phone]. So you definitely have that every now and again, still, because it’s part of a player’s brand and they want to show the fans what they’re doing, so I get that part of it. But yeah, you don’t want to lose that brotherhood.”
Altidore, who left Adidas for a new sponsorship deal with Puma this year, also discussed his effort to plan for life after soccer. “As I’ve grown older, you think about these things more and more,” he says. “Over the past few years I’ve definitely taken more of a closer look at how I want my life after soccer to look, financially… The great thing about it is if you just do a little bit of research and take the time, there’s so much you can find out to help yourself. I think athletes have a big advantage in that regard: you get to meet so many people throughout your career that if you keep in touch with those people, they can help you find a way and find a niche for after.”