MLS Cup 2016 may be taking place in Canada this year with Toronto FC set to host the Seattle Sounders on Saturday night (8 PM ET, FOX, TSN, RDN). But there certainly won’t be a shortage of American soccer superstars on the pitch. More specifically, TFC’s Jozy Altidore and Seattle’s Jordan Morris: two examples of USMNT attacking firepower.
MLS Cup 2016: A Showcase of USMNT Attacking Firepower
Jozy Altidore Peaking at Right Time for TFC
Altidore is just a single game away from his 100th appearance for the USMNT. The 27-year-old is already third all-time in career goals for the Stars and Stripes with 37, trailing only Clint Dempsey (52) and Landon Donovan (57). Considering he’s entering a period that can only be characterized as the prime of his career, one should expect Altidore to approach and perhaps exceed Donovan’s total.
The dynamic number nine has been a crucial component to TFC’s MLS Cup run. Despite missing nine games due to a recurrent hamstring injury, Altidore finished the regular season with ten goals. Among players who had a double digit goal total, just six other players exceeded his 0.61 goals per 90.
His scoring prowess has only gotten better in the playoffs. This is evidenced by the fact that Altidore has scored in all five of TFC’s postseason games. It’s a feat that no other player in MLS history has achieved.
— OptaJack (@OptaJack) December 1, 2016
But Altidore’s done much more than find the net during this year’s MLS Cup Playoffs. He’s also become an effective provider of goal-scoring opportunities. In addition to his league-leading five playoff goals, Altidore has four assists which is tied with teammate Sebastian Giovinco for best in the postseason.
Anyone who follows the USMNT is well-aware of Altidore’s primary skill set. He’s a quintessential point striker who provides a physical presence in the box and is phenomenal at holding the ball up. But what’s been most impressive in the playoffs is his ability to drop back into the midfield and function as a chance creator.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in extra time of the Eastern Conference Championship second leg against the Montreal Impact. With Giovinco largely ineffective and then forced to come off due to a cramp, Altidore took over. Both of TFC’s goals in the extra 30 minutes were heavily influenced by his distribution.
On what became the eventual go-ahead goal, it was Altidore who acted as a fulcrum. Taking Michael Bradley‘s initial pass and flicking it out wide to an overlapping Steven Beitashour, his ability as a set up man was hugely important. And a fantastic cross by Beitashour resulted in a score from perhaps the most unlikeliest of players in Benoit Cheyrou.
Two minutes later, Altidore was at it again.
Basically, everything that makes Altidore a prodigious threat in the attacking third was on full display. His hold-up play, his strength in outmuscling opposing defenders, and, of course, how he’s able to give his teammates opportunities to score. In this case, it was Tosaint Ricketts with his second of the playoffs.
On Saturday in front of a raucous home crowd, Altidore will have to continue being that dual-threat around the goal if TFC wants to finish on top when the final whistle is blown.
Jordan Morris: Best American Rookie in MLS History?
If Altidore is the present at center forward for the USMNT, Jordan Morris is undoubtedly the future. The Sounders Homegrown player realized a sensational start to his professional career one year after leading Stanford to the 2015 national title. It’s no wonder then that the league named him rookie of the year.
Morris showed no signs of hitting a rookie wall at virtually any point during the 2016 season. He appeared in all 34 regular season games for Seattle, making 32 starts. His 12 goals on the year was bested by only ten other players and was the highest total for an American rookie in MLS history. It included a four-game scoring streak from April 16th to May 7th.
In his short time with the US as well as with his club team, Morris has already established himself as a cult hero of sorts. He received his first call-up to the national team despite still being in college which hadn’t happened since the 1990s. And his first-ever goal for the Red, White and Blue came during an April 15, 2015 friendly against arch-rival Mexico. The US eventually prevailed, 2-0.
Another “Legend of Jordan Morris” moment came in the Sounders most recent fixture. Despite battling an illness a few days before their Western Conference Championship second leg matchup with the Colorado Rapids, Morris soldiered on. And his 56th minute goal gave the Rave Green what proved to be an unassailable 3-1 aggregate lead. The “flu game” narrative coming out of the win conjured up thoughts about another famous American athlete named “Jordan” and his effort with the Chicago Bulls in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals.
A few key events have helped spearhead the Sounders monumental revival and have them a win away from their first championship in the franchise’s eight-year MLS history. The coaching change that saw long-time Seattle soccer personality Brian Schmetzer replace Sigi Schmid played a part. Bringing in talented Uruguayan playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro was also instrumental. But Morris has made his presence felt as well, especially in the postseason with a goal apiece in both legs against the Rapids.
Perhaps no other American rookie in MLS history had as much pressure put on his shoulders as Morris did in the buildup to this season. Having chosen the Sounders over playing in the German Bundesliga for Werder Bremen, much was expected. He has the chance to deliver in the most emphatic way possible this weekend.
Both of these sides are on the cusp of history. One of them will hoist the Phillip F. Anschutz Trophy for the first time ever late Saturday night. And two American attacking talismans will attempt to make their mark on the game and help lead their respective team to the MLS summit.