Jozy Altidore says he wasn't forced into returning to MLS

U.S. striker Jozy Altidore says he had "options" to keep playing in Europe and was not forced to join Toronto FC during the winter transfer window last month.

After more than six seasons overseas, Altidore will return to Major League Soccer when the season begins next month.

With only one Premier League goal in a dismal 18 months with Sunderland, Altidore was unlikely to stay at the Stadium of Light, and had been linked to clubs inluding Lille in France and Bundesliga sides Werder Bremen and Stuttgart.

Altidore, however, chose to return stateside, where he signed a five-year deal with Toronto FC.

"There were a lot of options," the striker said in an interview with the Toronto Sun. "People were saying I was forced to Toronto or something like that. I just thought at this point in my life it was something that I was ready to do."

Altidore is only part of the club's recent transformation in Toronto, a city that has never seen their team reach the MLS playoffs in eight seasons. Altidore will link up with his U.S. national team teammate Michael Bradley, and the Reds also invested in bringing over Italian playmaker Sebastian Giovinco from Juventus.

MLS is not on the same level as the Premier League or any of Europe's best competitions, but Altidore said he doesn't see his move as a demotion or sign that he failed.

"I was ready for the public opinion and backlash," he said. "The project they have here excited me the most."

The 25-year-old was quick to point out the league's improvement, however.

"When I was with New York Red Bulls -- at 16 years old -- I was already one of the best players on the team," Altidore said. "You look here [now], the level is different. The intensity of training is different. My first day of training with TFC I was surprised.

"Ask Michael. I keep telling him MLS is the best kept secret in the world."

Altidore blamed part of his struggles in Sunderland on a change in managers before he could get settled on Wearside. He came to the Black Cats under former manager Paolo Di Canio, who was fired just six games into Altidore's first season.

"The hardest part about Sunderland was that there was an idea when I joined the club and an expectation," Altidore said. "But that got thrown out the window after a month."

"The people suffering most were the fans. It wasn't a fun time for anyone."