Thursday Lunch: Wait, Jozy Altidore is Still 21?

Posted: August 25, 2011 in english premier league, eredivisie, la liga, soccer, sports, usmnt
Tags: , , , , , ,

By Evan Ream

Editor’s note: This was written a couple days before Altidore’s brace today.

Washed up. Not good enough. Will never live up to his potential. Can’t score goals. Agudelo should start over him. Has no first touch. Can’t finish. These are all things people have said about Jozy Altidore.

When Jozy joined AZ this year, it was his sixth club team in a six-year professional career. Since he played in MLS, Jozy had failed to score more than one league goal for each of his clubs. It came as a surprise when Altidore scored in his Eredivisie debut vs. PSV. After his brace this weekend, he has three goals in three games and just one start for the sixth Dutch place team. People are starting to talk about how Jozy is “finally” breaking through, about how long they have waited for this to happen, but no one seems to realize that Jozy Altidore is still just 21 years old.

Jozy Altidore was an early bloomer. He joined MLS and scored his first goal at just 16 years old. He made his international debut and scored two goals for USA before 17. At 18, he was transferred to Villarreal in Spain’s La Liga for around $10 million: a record among Americans. That same year, he made his La Liga debut, scored a goal in La Liga and five goals for the USMNT including one against Spain in the Confederations Cup. After all this promise, Altidore seemingly hit a wall and was hardly heard from for the next two years.

Jozy was doing really well but people in the United States evidently have no patience. Here, we want things to be done fast, done now. We want instant fixes for things that take a great deal of time to fix. People often wonder how our national team isn’t among the world’s best without realizing that most of the world’s major soccer leagues have almost a 100-year head start on MLS. Jozy was never going to break into a top league and be a double-digit goal scorer right away. He needed time, and his game needed refinement before he could be a reliable goal scorer.

Villarreal were determined not to give up on Jozy, so they tried loaning him out to get playing time. As I recall, most people were in favor of Jozy being loaned out to Xerez in Spain’s second division. Xerez were in first place in the league and had a good shot at getting promoted. Everyone just assumed that Altidore would slide into the starting team, score goals and then do the same thing the next year at Villarreal.

Unfortunately, they were wrong. Jozy found that when he went to Xerez, the manager did not want to change a winning team. Things like this are common in Europe. Altidore wasn’t really one of the manager’s “players,” so he sat on the bench. He was good enough to be a substitute for Villarreal but apparently not even good enough to crack the lineup for a team that would be relegated from La Liga immediately after promotion. He never played for Xerez.

After his short tenure at Xerez, Jozy headed to England for another loan, this time he to Hull City of the English Premier League for the entire 2009-2010 season. Jozy had a promising start as he flew in just in time to get on the bench for a game against Bolton. He came on as a sub in that game and set up the only goal of the game and nearly scored a couple himself. Hull City fans were excited and so were USMNT fans. Three days later, Jozy scored his first goal for Hull in the League Cup earning a dream start for the club.

Unfortunately, he then couldn’t buy a goal, not scoring for 6 more months after that game. When he did finally score, it was in impressive fashion against Manchester City, but it was too late to make a difference. Though Hull won that game 2-1, Jozy and Hull City were relegated to the Championship by the end of the season. His time in England ended with a sending off for violent conduct against Sunderland.

Though the season didn’t go as well as Jozy or his fans would have liked, he improved as a player in most facets, especially in holding up the ball and playing with his back to the goal. Jozy couldn’t fret about the season’s failures though as he had a World Cup to play in. By all accounts, Jozy was good but not great in his first World Cup. Though he didn’t score any goals himself, he set one up against Slovenia and drew a number of important fouls. Sadly, he will be most remembered in the 2010 World Cup for missing a sitter against Algeria and failing to have any impact against Ghana.

USA’s World Cup was over and Jozy’s future was in limbo. Villarreal were determined not to give up on him and welcomed him back where he was given a moderate amount of playing time. Though used sparingly in league games, Altidore contributed two goals in Cup games and played seven times in the Europa League.

However, he couldn’t get much playing time so he was once again loaned out, but this time to Bursaspor in Turkey. Altidore was expected to start and provide a goal scoring threat for the Turkish Champions. He played in a few games and scored one goal, but the whole spell didn’t go over that well and his future was once again in limbo.

Jozy went to the 2011 Gold Cup not knowing where he would play his club soccer the next year. He put in an impressive performance, scoring two goals for USA before getting hurt in the quarterfinal against Jamaica, ending his tournament. The difference going back to play club soccer this time is that he found someone that actually believed in him and was looking for a long-term solution, not a short term one. Jozy, who had been linked to moves all around Europe, was bought from Villarreal by AZ from Holland whose technical director is none other than former USA international Earnie Stewart.

Altidore has now scored three goals in three games (8/25: five goals in four games). It looks like this move is finally the right one. Jozy is playing on a top team that will be in Europe and he will be expected to score goals for them. This will be the first time in his club career that he will be a first choice starter seemingly no matter what.

So what does that mean for USA fans? It means that the man who has a good shot at being our all-time leading goal scorer (he already has 12 in 39 games) will finally be in a consistent setting and playing week in and week out. If Jozy continues to score goals at this pace, he could be moving to a better league once again, but this time he would be a more rounded and better respected player. Jozy may be just 21, but he is already a veteran of European soccer; this can only help the USMNT in their quest to become a World Power. I just can’t wait to see what Jozy can do under Klinsmann.

  1. Primoone says:

    Veteran? I think not…especially if you look at how many minutes he has actually logged. In addition…all the criticism was righfully directed at him. Some of the comments with respect to being washed up is way off base however, he does have a terrible touch. He dissappears in matches and fails quite often at influencing matches when he does get an opportunity. I see he scored another brace so hopefully this will lead to better things for him…

    • Well my point was that yes he was inconsistent, needed to work on his first touch and disappeared from games but it was too much to expect a player of his age to not be doing those things. It looks like he’s found the right situation now and is ready to succeed.

  2. NDB says:

    Good article Evan. I enoyed the read.

    I do have an issue I have with statements like “he’s just 21”, especially when it comes to touch and technique – it should be so much better. And somebody with the upper body strength of JA should be much better at holding up the ball and using his frame to his advantage. Decision making will come. But IMHO, after six years as a pro, it should be better. Not sure if it is a confience, mental or man-management thing, but I really hope that he improves these aspects to his game in the Netherlands. So far so good, but it’s only been a handful of games, so too early to tell. If Klinsmann’s preferred system is a 4-2-3-1, he needs to improve to be the lone forward at international level.

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