Jozy's Rise Part II?: A Look at the Striker's Past and Present Form
by Alex Fairchild
Jun 04, 2013 6:47 PM EDT
Just under 10 years ago, Jozy Altidore was sent to IMG Academy. This school trains and educates the elite from its Bradenton, Florida headquarters. In his time at IMG, he was representing the United States U-17s. For the youth side, he played and scored often bagging 19 goals in 26 appearances. He persevered and gained a spot with the U-20s, striking 4 times in 5 appearances. In the midst of his rise, Altidore was at IMG looking to graduate one year early, as students at the sporting school often do. The youngster was drafted 17th overall by the now ancient New York/New Jersey Metrostars, who turned into the New York Red Bulls less than two months after their selection of the striker. He became a star for Red Bulls and after a couple of seasons with the club, he made the trip across the pond after being signed by Villareal. They quickly loaned him out to Xerez, Hull City, and Bursaspor in consecutive campaigns. For those four clubs, he scored once for each, except for Xerez where, due to injury, he did not play one match. Nevertheless, the forward's stock was still rising. In 2009, he suited up for his country 17 times and scored 6 goals. Altidore reached cult hero status on June 24, 2009. In a date engraved into the minds of every US soccer fan, this man scored one of the most famous goals in the beautiful game's 100 year history in the United States. It was a classic goal from the AZ man, whose diagonal run was spotted by Clint Dempsey, though the midfielder's pass took a deflection. While the ball bounces to the feet of Josmar, who has his back to goal, his club mate Joan Capdevila is riding the Americans back. As the ball approaches, the man in white pivots his right foot, and with pristine timing rolls Capdevila flinging the Spaniard to the ground. Free as a bird, the kid from New Jersey powers a curler Iker Casillas' way with the Madrid keeper rooted. The Spanish icon got his right palm to the beam, but could not do enough to keep the ball out of the net. After 26 minutes and a second or so of play, the United States led one of the greatest XIs to ever set foot on a football pitch. Altidore's surging run into the channel brought that goal to the US, while turning his opponent proved that his frame was worthy to be that of the next great American forward. But then, it all fell apart. He got 2 in 2010 and failed to score at the World Cup. Before the world's eyes were upon him, he only put away one goal for Hull City and was sent off in a late season match against Sunderland seeing his team demoralized and demoted. After Alan Hutton threw the ball at Altidore's head, the forward head-butted the Scot senselessly. In need of three points, the move was detrimental to Hull's Premier League survival. Hutton was given a straight red for his stupidity and had Altidore not retaliated, Hull would have had a one man advantage for the entire second half. After losing the battle, Altidore's team subsequently lost the war and were all but relegated to the Championship. While Jozy bettered himself by one more national team goal the next year his performances at Bursaspor left the forward's club future in doubt Come 2012, Altidore bottomed out - for the Stars and Stripes that is. In his early 20s, the prodigy was fruitless for his national team, but something was happening across the pond. After being signed in the summer of 2011 by Eredivisie outfit AZ Alkmaar, the Jersey boy began to sprout. It was as if he was rejuvenated. In his freshman year in the Netherlands he put away 15 in the league. Many feared that it was a fluke of a season though, as he could not perform when it mattered most for his country. The same occurred in 2012 and Altidore proved that his his chances of becoming a more than productive member of the national team were still alive. As the campaign grew into spring, Altidore's goal scoring record failed to slow. He finished with 23, fourth on the league charts. The IMG graduate also brought AZ silverware, leading their KNVB Cup run with 8 goals. His 14th minute bullet off the hands of PSV Eindhoven's keeper turned out to be the winner in the cup final. However, his form for the Red, White and Blue was still in question. He failed to produce against Belgium in what was another sub-par performance bereft of the power and pace required to knock off one of Europe's top sides. Saturday was a polar performance from Altidore - something his supporters at home had not seen since his foray towards goal against the Spanish, one international footballing cycle ago. His brilliant volley on 13 minutes came as a shock. The goal a surprise itself, the scorer even more so. A product of last year's MLS assist leader, Graham Zusi, it was a delicious cross that the Sporting KC star's teammate devoured. Altidore's confidence was brimming. Moments later, Jermaine Jones spotted the big man, who in a 2009 style rolled his defender and slid a ball to Deuce, who failed to finish. Then, the ultimate sign of a footballer's self-belief appeared, when 23 minutes in a Dempsey through ball saw Jozy launch a shot from the White House, though it skied over the keeper and past the goal. He created the third goal with a wonderfully looped cross to Dempsey, but it was his power and pace, so found in South Africa, that surged him past the German back line. His frame gave him space to take the ball down and his skill allowed him to create room for the cross. One of the more telling moments of the striker's performance came 20 minutes from time. It was not an assist or goal, but the event proved productive. Another long ball was headed the striker's way and not only did he chase after it, but he fought tooth and nail for possession with Germany's Philipp Wollscheid. The whistle blew and a foul was called. It was not the 23 year old who was penalized, but the center half in green. While the call was certainly questionable, Altidore had earned his team a set piece at a favorable location on the pitch. The US failed to make good of the opportunity, but Altidore had created a chance from nothing - a characteristic of the world's top strikers. The next few weeks may tell whether or not he has the potential to join such an elite group of footballers.