BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, August 29, 2012
The US national team roster for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers is likely to be released later this week and few Americans are playing better than Jozy Altidore.
The 22 year old forward has begun the Eredivisie season with four goals in three games and he should be a big part of US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's plans in September for two World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica.
Altidore's tenure with the US national team under Klinsmann has seen its share of ups and downs. Most recently there was a setback when his club, AZ Alkmaar, refused to release him on time for the beginning of the US national team camp in May. As a result, Altidore did not start for the US team in the five-game series.
It's been a little more than a year since Klinsmann was hired as the head coach of the US national team and offense has at times been elusive. In fact, games against Slovenia, Scotland, and Antigua/Barbuda were the only three games where the US team has scored multiple goals under their German head coach who has repeatedly stressed a goal of playing more offensive and attractive soccer.
Despite the struggles, Atlidore believes that it could be a different story in September as they will have a full camp to prepare for the games against Jamaica.
"Hopefully we can adapt to his style sooner than later," Altidore told YA. "I think you'll see the best from the team once we're together for long stretches. I think that also plays a part. When you're trying to adopt the style [Klinsmann] wants, the most important thing, in my opinion, is repetition - constantly practicing it and constantly getting used to it. You just don't have that when you're with the national team. You're only in for a few days and then you're out. That's a big thing. We'll get there."
Altidore's goals so far this Eredivisie season have been of immense quality that has showcased his creativity and off-ball movement in addition to just pure finishing.
In his first goa in a recent gamel against Heracles, he began the play when he collected the ball in his own half and took two touches before finding an open teammate. He then made an off-ball run to get open for the finish. In his second goal, he collected the ball in the midfield and moved forward to create his own shot which he finished in impressive fashion from 18 yards.
"At AZ, we train exactly as we play," the New Jersey native explained. "We like two-touch, moving the ball around, and trying to be creative in the attacking third. I think the form of the team is the most important thing. When we're flying, the goals will come. You have to see how we progress. It's kind of early. If we keep playing as well as we are, the goals will come."
It will be these types of plays that Altidore will be aiming to bring to the national team and it is this creativity and attack-minded approach that Klinsmann emphasizes.
"He likes players that try to express themselves," Altidore said of Klinsmann. "You can't do a 'Messi' every play but at the same time, he stresses that when you're in a dangerous position, try to make something happen. Try to be dangerous and try to make something happen. If you look at the goal against Mexico, Brek Shea took a chance and made a great move around the guy. It paid off. That's a great example."
If Altidore continues his hot start to the season and plays well for both the US national team and AZ Alkmaar, it will only be a matter of time before transfer rumors begin to emerge. Altidore is a young player and the Eredivisie is often viewed as a league where top young talent is eventually sold to bigger clubs.
Altidore, began his professional career in MLS as a 16 year old but was sold to Villarreal as an 18 year old. His time with the Spanish club was difficult as he played behind world-class players and was loaned out on three separate occasions.
"A part of it is my age," Altidore recalled of his move to Europe to Villarreal. "I was really young when I moved over here. At the same time, I wasn't really given the same opportunity I was given now. I've come to a place where I've been given a fresh start."
When he signed with AZ Alkmaar last summer, it was the first chance he had to truly settle down with a club in Europe and it was that stability that allowed him to succeed with a 15 goal Eredivisie season.
Despite the inherent nature of successful young Eredivisie player frequently getting sold to bigger leagues, Altidore insists it not something he thinks about.
"To be honest, it's the furthest thing from my mind at this point," Altidore said. "I'm just enjoying my time here. You never know what the future holds or when opportunities come but as of now, I love being here and I love playing here."
"I'm not looking at the league, I'm just looking at the team and there is just young, hungry, qualify footballers here," he added. "This is a fantastic team. There are talented players here and it's a style I like to play. Playing with this team and the style is a big part of the success I'm having."
Altidore is indeed a more polished and mature player than he was when he left for Europe as a teenager. At just 22 years old, he has played in MLS, with a top La Liga club in Spain, with an English Premier League club, and a Turkish club.
The road that has brought him to AZ Alkmaar has been a rocky path with unexpected turns but Altidore insists it has helped make him stronger. When he made the move to Villarreal, it was a very rare move for an American teenager to make the jump out of MLS at such a young age to a large club.
In the future, Altidore expects more younger Americans players to make a similar move.
"I did what I could," Altidore said of his move to Europe. "I did what I knew at the time. The kids behind me are fortunate because there are more examples [to go from]. If I have a kid, I'm going to bring a kid to Europe not because it's Europe. Europe has no magic. It's just the structure. Here, from five years old, you're training like a professional."
"That's just the thing we need to adopt in America," he concluded. "You're playing 20-40 hours a week. That's huge. You're getting that technical ability and that awareness. In America, it's different. When I was younger, I played my games but it's nowhere near the development of some of the guys that are on my team now. That's the little things that we have to get better at. We have to get kids playing more and longer."