Jozy Altidore is 20 years old. He's a starting striker in the English Premier League and he's begun playing the type of soccer expected of him when he drew a $10 million transfer as a teenager.
Oh, and in case you forgot, he is American.
This seems silly to point out here, but it seems some folks lose sight of the fact that Altidore is a 20-year-old American striker playing in the world's biggest league. He hadn't scored a league goal until Saturday's beautiful finish in Hull's 2-1 win vs. Manchester City, but even before that goal he was already showing signs of being a young player figuring things out.
A 20-year-old American striker playing (and now starting) in the world's biggest league who is playing well as a starter. Think about that for a second. Doesn't that sound like a strange combination? It should, because there has never been one before, which is why American fans need to appreciate watching his evolution as a player.
Sure, Altidore's goal against Manchester City is just one goal in league play, but the signs in recents weeks are promising for a player who saw most of his first year in Europe wasted on benches in Spain. He could have let that time disillusion him, but Altidore's exploits with the U.S. national team surely helped keep his confidence boosted. Even after arriving in England, and having his Twitter fiasco threaten his playing time, Altidore kept pushing forward and kept giving manager Phil Brown reasons to put him on the field.
Now here we are, five months from the World Cup and Altidore is playing inspired soccer and looking more confident with each passing week. Whether it's the natural progression of maturity, or the motivation of wanting to play well for his family and all the rest of the people in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, or both, Altidore is playing with a consistent fire we haven't seen since 2007, Altidore's only full season as an MLS starter with the New York Red Bulls.
In 2007, Altidore got the first taste of being a regular starter and the way he blossomed that year is very similar to how he's now looking for Hull, with his game growing as he makes full use of his combination of size, speed and strength. Things are a bit different now, with Altidore gaining invaluable experience playing against the best defenders money can buy. The goals hadn't come before Saturday, but what had come was a real belief that he can play on that level. You could see that much in the way he has gone at defenders and in the way he has pushed his way into the action.
Saturday's goal is hardly a destination, but moreso a starting point for a young player who is striding confidently into uncharted territory for an American striker. He is still learning as a player, and is far from a finished product, but these are positives, negatives. And no, one goal isn't enough, but it could mean everything if it helps Altidore find his identity as a goal-scoring striker in the English Premier League.
A 20-year-old American goal-scoring striker in the English Premier League. Sounds strange doesn't it?
Maybe not for long.