BRIAN SCIARETTA - Friday, March 25, 2011
With the US national team now assembled in New Jersey to take on Argentina on Saturday night, the game will serve as a homecoming for Jozy Altidore who will be playing his first US game in five months.
Altidore, 21, was born in nearby Livingston, New Jersey and first began getting national attention when he began his professional career with the Red Bulls in 2006 and quickly became one of the league's best players.
Now a World Cup veteran with 32 national team caps, Altidore will return home on Saturday to take on one of the best teams in the world in Argentina.
"I can't wait," Altidore told YA. "It's great to be back and be here with the guys. Whether it's off the bench or starting, it doesn't matter to me. I get to see my whole family so I am also really excited for that. It's going to be an incredibly quality game for us. It's important to keep things moving going forward towards to Gold Cup. It's certainly going to be a good test."
Altidore arrived into camp in a better place than when he last was with the national team. Five months ago, he was with Villarreal but was struggling to earn playing time behind the elite forwards of the Spanish La Liga club.
At the end of January, Altidore was loaned for six months to the defending Turkish champion Bursaspor who currently sit in third place.
Altidore is enjoying playing in the high pressure environment in Turkey and feels that the consistent playing time will help him moving forward.
"It's definitely nice to play every day," Altidore discussed. "I think that's very important for me as a young player. I'm playing a lot and I am learning a lot about the game. It's going well for me. We are going for a title and Bursaspor play for titles. The atmosphere is that they expect to win so there is a lot of pressure. It's a good place for me to be right now."
With the 2010 World Cup now a distant memory and the new cycle well underway, Altidore is in a different situation. US head coach Bob Bradley is now looking to introduce new players like Mix Diskerud, Tim Ream, Juan Agudelo and Timothy Chandler into the first team and Altidore will be expected to be a leader with a veteran presence.
"The core is coming together and Bob is doing a good job with these new guys," Altidore described. "It's great. He's bringing them in slowly but quickly as possible. It's really nice to see a lot of new and young players here. I'm young myself. You got good talented kids here. But for guys like Mix and Juan you can already see how talented they are."
When Altidore earned his first cap, he had just turned 18 and was still with the New York Red Bulls. He is well aware of the lofty expectations that are on young players like Agudelo. The transition to the international game can be difficult but Altidore is confident this group will emerge.
"It's hard," Altidore said of the transition to international soccer. "It's a different level now. It's a bit faster, it's a bit stronger. Especially when you have guys coming from MLS and different type of places, it may be different at first for them. But I think as they go along, we have such good players and a good locker room environment that helps the guys adjust even quicker. I think the new kids will be fine. They have good heads on their shoulders."
Altidore and the US national team will begin their series of friendlies on Saturday night when they take on Argentina. Following that, they will head south to Nashville to face Paraguay.