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Toronto acquires Altidore, sends Defoe to Sunderland

TORONTO (AP) — Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley grew up less than 50 miles apart in northern New Jersey, playing alongside each other on U.S. national youth teams.

Now veterans of two World Cups each, the duo has been reunited as teammates with Toronto in Major League Soccer.

“Canada, who would have thought it, huh?” Altidore said with a laugh Friday when introduced as Toronto’s newest designated player. “That’s the thing about life, you never know what you’re going to get the next day.”

Toronto confirmed the acquisition of the forward from Sunderland of England’s Premier League and agreed to transfer English forward Jermain Defoe to the Black Cats, one year after obtaining him from Tottenham.

Altidore said Bradley, the midfielder who joined Toronto along with Defoe in January 2014, was a “huge” part of his decision to sign with Toronto.

“We started at the youth national team together at 16, 17 years old,” Altidore said. “Every level we ascended to, we did it together. We were always close, always pushing each other from a young age. He was huge in this whole thing.

“Michael’s an honest guy, he’s always been honest with me,” Altidore added. “He told me from the start ‘Jozy, you will quickly see that this place, they have the same desire that we do, to get better and to kind of make a statement.’ That’s what we’re all about in terms of growing and taking the game to a new height in North America. This is the perfect place to do that. There is no better place to do that.”

The 25-year-old Altidore played in MLS with the New York Red Bulls from 2006-08 before heading to Spain’s Villarreal for a transfer fee of about $10 million. He failed to establish himself as a regular, spent time on loan at Xerez, Hull and Bursaspor before he was sold to the Netherlands’ AZ Alkmaar.

He set the record for goals by an American in a European club season with 31 for AZ in 2012-13, then went to Sunderland. He had just one goal in 40 league appearances with the Black Cats.

“The time at Sunderland was a difficult one for a lot of reasons,” Altidore said. “A lot of things went on behind the scenes that made it very tough to get off the ground there.”

Toronto coach Greg Vanney, a former U.S. national player, said he’s confident Altidore’s scoring drought won’t continue in MLS.

“He will score goals. I have no concern about that,” Vanney said. “I have no doubt that he’s going to be a great player and arguably the best striker in the league.”

General manager Tim Bezbatchenko called Altidore “one of the top young Americans in the game today.”

Altidore was added to the U.S. training camp roster before upcoming exhibitions against Chile and Panama. Bradley and newly drafted Toronto goalleeper Alex Bono are also on the American roster.

U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has previously expressed a preference for American players to test themselves against opponents in Europe’s top leagues. Altidore discussed his move with Klinsmann and said the German coach was supportive of a return to MLS.

“I spoke to him at length,” Altidore said. “It was a very open, honest conversation. He understands that I’m a guy who’s always pushing myself, always looking to get better. I think he supported this move a lot. He’s obviously going to work closely with me and everybody at this organization to make sure that I put my best foot forward.”

Defoe scored 12 goals in 21 games with Toronto, but Bezbatchenko acknowledged “friction” with the former English, who missed much of the second half of the season with injury and returned home for treatment.

Bezbatchenko referred to Altidore as “a known entity.”

“In Jozy we’re getting someone who knows the league, who knows all the things you have to deal with,” Bezbatchenko said.

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