Report: Jozy Altidore to join Toronto FC to continue USMNT exodus to MLS

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Jozy Altidore of Sunderland is foiled by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Chelsea at Stadium of Light on November 29, 2014 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Jozy Altidore

Jozy Altidore of Sunderland is foiled by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Chelsea at Stadium of Light on November 29, 2014 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Jozy Altidore is returning to North America. TSN's Gareth Wheeler broke the news on Tuesday night that the United States striker will be joining Toronto FC, a move that had been rumored for some time. Altidore's old club Sunderland will receive Jermain Defoe in exchange while paying the Canadian side a "significant” transfer fee.

After seven years abroad, Altidore returns home(ish) following his long trek through Europe. And in bringing him in, Toronto is solving two problems: It got rid of Defoe and replaced him about as well as it could.

It was no secret that Defoe wanted to return to England, but the large fee TFC had paid for him – and wanted to recoup – complicated a transfer. Sunderland, meanwhile, got little production from its strikers and had almost no use for Altidore, who was bought by manager Gus Poyet's erratic predecessor Paolo Di Canio and never settled in. Both players had cost their now-former clubs a $10 million-or-so transfer fee, making it something of a coup for the Torontonians to be getting a check in addition to the player who is seven years younger than the one he was traded for.

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At 25, Altidore remains something of an enigma. Plainly gifted, Altidore has endured a European tour that has been mostly disastrous ever since he left the New York Red Bulls for Villarreal in 2008 – also for $10 million, incidentally. Stints at Villarreal, Xerez, Hull City and Bursaspor all ended in disappointment.

Once Villarreal gave up on him and let him leave for Dutch side AZ for free, his club career turned a corner. (In fairness, it should be said that he has mostly been useful and productive with the U.S. men's national team throughout his European ordeal.) Over two seasons, Altidore scored 51 goals, earning a transfer back to the Premier League.

Yet 40 league appearances for Sunderland yielded just one goal. He scored two more in the League Cup. And that's it. Sunderland paid some $3.33 million per goal.

So now Altidore is back, in search of goals, form and redemption. Word had it that he was seeking a salary of at least $5 million to leave Europe. Chances are he got it, since the New York Red Bulls were in the running for his services as well (although apparently not willing to pay a transfer fee). According to TSN, Altidore will sign a four-year contract to be reunited with USA teammate Michael Bradley.

The two should form a dangerous duo down TFC's axis. But then nobody is much worried about how Altidore will perform in Major League Soccer. He will surely live up to his price tag and billing there.

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The real question is how this affects the USMNT. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has always insisted on his players seeking the highest possible playing level, unambiguously suggesting that this rules out MLS. But he has also been consistently willing to entrust MLSers with important roles on the national team, removing the incentive to go abroad – especially now that the league is willing to pay top dollar for domestic talent. Klinsmann's predecessor, Bob Bradley, brought just four MLS players to the 2010 World Cup. Klinsmann took 10 to Brazil 2014.

Since the World Cup, four more players from that roster have signed with MLS after midfielder Mix Diskerud joined New York City FC earlier on Tuesday. Surely, the German manager is off somewhere tearing his famous blonde tufts from his head. It is hard to argue, after all, that Bradley and Clint Dempsey have lost some of the bite and sharpness in their game since returning from Europe. (Injuries have played a part in this, to be sure.)

Now that the entire spine of the national team plays on this side of the pond, we are entering something of a new era in the national team's history. And it was induced, accidentally and ironically, by the European who was supposed to make the whole thing, well, more European.

Altidore, for his part, will surely find more playing joy in Canada than in England. But the old American quagmire remains: Is it better to be a star in MLS? Or a part-time player in Europe?

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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