Americans Abroad Spotlight: Altidore overcomes obstacles to hit stride with AZ

Altidore AZ (AZ)

photo courtesy of Ed van de Pol

By FRANCO PANIZO

Jozy Altidore may be finding the back of the net more frequently than ever and may be playing some of the best soccer in his career, but that is not to say the recent success has come easy for the young American striker. In fact, some of the hardships Altidore experienced earlier in his career had him on the brink of what he calls his breaking point.

Altidore never reached that point and he began realizing his promising potential thanks to the people close to him keeping him hungry and grounded, but no one person may have been more influential in helping Altidore avoid a major downfall than his father.

As he has for much of his son's career, Joseph Altidore guided him through the roughest of patches of his time in Europe. He helped his son with things on and off the field and even when criticism was plentiful and sometimes overly harsh, such as when the U.S. national team striker was labeled washed up at the ages of 19 and 20. That helped keep Altidore focused on his career, and it is paying dividends for the forward now.

"He's always given me a lot of advice, not just football advice, but just in terms of life and I think that helped me get through a lot," said Altidore, who recently had a house built from scratch for his parents in Boca Raton, Fla. "He's played an important role for me in terms of just putting everything into perspective and understanding what I had to do to become what I want to become. It sounds so simple but it's not always so simple and to have people that keep enforcing these little things in your mind, it can go a long way."

That it has. Altidore enjoyed a breakout season in 2011-2012, scoring 19 times across all competitions in his first year with Dutch club AZ Alkmaar. The 22-year-old also got a steady dose of playing time for the first time since he went to Europe, and that helped his development after years of bouncing around different clubs in different countries.

If his first season with AZ was a sign of things to come, Altidore is on the verge of going on a tear in the Eredivisie. The weekly starter has opened the new campaign with four goals in the club's first four league matches, and he has demonstrated deadly finishing abilities while scoring in different ways this season.

That strong start to the season is something Altidore credits to having been able to partake in a full preseason, something that has been hard to come by in years past due international obligations and the constant state of flux that enveloped his club career.

"Playing all those training games and getting in your rhythm and you kind of peak at the right time," said Altidore of the preseason. "Still, in the beginning of the season, you're not 100 percent totally ready, but you're a lot further along than if you didn't have that preseason. It's important for anybody, for any team, that you get that rhythm of playing those practice games, get in a routine, and it shows on the field."

Altidore, who had braces in each of the first two games this season, also attributes his early-season success to feeling more acclimated to his surroundings in quaint Alkmaar. 

"I'm obviously more settled, I'm obviously more at home," said Altidore. "That was always an easy thing for me this year, because there's nothing new I've got to worry about. I think that played a part: just feeling at home here, getting comfortable with the club, how everything works there, how everything runs there. I just feel at home and I think having that definitely helps in your favor when you're looking at a season."

As strongly as Altidore has begun the new campaign and as well as he is playing, the U.S. men's national team forward knows not to get too high, or too low, on his performances. He admits to feeling confident after scoring his first goal of the season in the first match, but he knows that more solid performances from him will be needed if AZ is to have another strong campaign.

"At the end of the day, you've got to be realistic and understand you've still got 30-something, hopefully 40-something, more games to go, so it's still a long road ahead," said Altidore. "But it's always good to start like this, get the monkey off your back early, get your (first) goal of the season. That's always huge so you can kind of ease yourself into the beginning of the season. But I'm really not worried about it. I'm just worried about continuing, playing well hopefully, and getting some more wins."

Altidore and AZ have failed to do that recently, and they suffered a huge and embarassing disappointment last Thursday, losing to Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala, 5-0, in the Europa League play-off round. The result saw AZ fall by a 6-0 aggregate score and knocked the Dutch club out of one of the premiere European competitions before it ever really got started.

That setback notwithstanding, Altidore admits he has improved tremendously after a first season with AZ that saw him play in 52 games and reach the Europa League quarterfinals.

"I just think I've become sharper," said Altidore. "I think that comes from playing all the time, playing every day. We train twice a day a lot here and playing a lot of games, the sharpness comes to you, and then just being better when the ball is not at your feet and kind of seeing plays ahead, and that also comes with playing, and I've been lucky enough to get a lot of minutes so I kind of got better at trying to read situations and being in better spaces so I can try and score more goals."

On the U.S. men's national team front, Altidore is still one of many players trying to adjust to head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's new style of play, and it does not help that he missed a chunk of this summer's World Cup qualifying camp due to AZ not wanting to release him until absolutely necessary.

Still, Altidore acknowledges that transitioning from a reactive style of play to a more proactive way is going to take more time for him and the rest of the Americans to fully adapt to, even if they have already had a full year to get used to the change.

"It's about mentality and about understanding that we're one of the teams in CONCACAF that kind of have to force the issue, force the tempo, force the play," said Altidore. "You kind of have to bang it in your head again over and over when you get to camp and remember that's the part of the game that we've got to get better at.

"But it's just going to take time. I can't say 'Oh, in a month it's going to be perfect' or something like that. I think with more repetition, as many games as possible we can get together, I think it might help us."

Altidore and the U.S. team will have a chance to show just how much progress they have made under Klinsmann this Friday when they visit Jamaica in the first of two World Cup qualifiers in the span of five days. Altidore is fit enough to spearhead the Americans' attack, and he is ready for the challenge should he be given his first start under Klinsmann since February's historic 1-0 triumph over Italy.

Having that opporuntity, however, may have never even presented itself for Altidore had it not been for his father and others close friends and relatives helping him through tough times, and for that he is thankful.

"I'm lucky because a lot of guys who have been around around across a lot of countries from a lot of nationalities, they go through Europe and they go through rough patches and they can't do it anymore," said Altidore. "I'm lucky enough to have been able to withstand the tough parts and hopefully have good parts coming ahead."

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66 Responses to Americans Abroad Spotlight: Altidore overcomes obstacles to hit stride with AZ

  1. Vic says:

    No doubt he’s done well in Holland so far. The question remains can he become a world class finisher in a top league or for the national team(such as Dempsey). There’s been players that have been top scorers in the the Dutch league that have flopped in better leagues (Alfonso Alves and Bryan Ruiz).

  2. paul says:

    Your beer is half empty I’m guessing.

  3. BBB says:

    Reading those quotes, it’s obvious this is a player who has grown up a lot the past couple years. Good on ya, Jozy.

  4. John says:

    Players are good according to thier value. At 10 mil Altidore is a bad buy. At 2 mil it’s a no brainier. That fee that Villarreal paid was insane. Similar to the Andy Carrol situation.

  5. Eric says:

    I’m sure it’s not just me but it’s so easy to forget that Jozy is still just 22 years old. There’s been questions about his maturity at times but he’s still got a lot of development ahead of him.

  6. Tyler says:

    He’s made a lot of progress these past 2 years, but once again the nagging concern with Jozy is still relevant.

    He disappears and he has very poor fitness. His last match with AZ saw him hands on knees by the 60th minute.

    He’s made some great strides and has moments of brilliance, but that just makes him a good player. In order to be a great player that performs on the international level he needs to consistently perform, be able to perform in tough games and he simply has not done that well.

  7. koko says:

    Very good pts. His fitness needs to improve if he wants to play at a high level on a consistent basis. But, yes, his progress has been quite good.

  8. CJ says:

    Maybe his family & friends should start advising other US players abroad? US Soccer should have a support group for foreign-based players so we avoid the “Freddy Adu syndrome” that seems to happen to a lot of our players.

  9. FCD BLOWS says:

    I’m sorry Altidore, u still have a longgggggg way to go.

  10. Camjam says:

    I thought the same thing at first, but 2 things:

    1) They were playing with 10 men from the 7th minute

    2) I also thought he looked gassed, yet he was always there til the mid-80s to hold up the ball, make runs for passes, and chase down defenders.

    I think his style and body language just Screams tiredness, when really he is far from it

  11. Colin in MT says:

    They were also down to 10 men and he was doing a lot of chasing

  12. bottlcaps says:

    I have been a critic of Altidore in the past, but I always tempered it with the fact he was still young and needed to LEARN.

    I think the biggest criticism of him was when he played the lone striker role. He fit ALL the parameters for the position; tall, strong, technically astute and when you added his speed, he clearly was made for the role. UNFORTUNATELY, no one taught him to play it properly, not VillaReal, not Hull, not Xerx or the T
    urkish team. Only when he came to Holland did they take the time to teach him the basics of patience timing his runs and knowing he will have to learn a position of lone striker sooner or later, chose to pair him up top with another striker (or two) and gradually bring him along.

    It has worked, Jozy is as his best when paired, and only on a few occasions would AZ leave him up top alone.

    I think he has found his place and his peace, and at his age, he could well become the US best striker.

  13. Dutch guy says:

    Bryan Ruiz wasn’t topscorer and is still contributing to Fulham (assists & setting up plays) and Afonso Alves left when he had already reached his top a long time ago, if Jozy can continue his form he will get far. I just hope he makes a transfer to a club like Ajax in that case instead of an average to poor BPL team (like Ruiz&Alves did to -respectively- Middlesborough and Fulham.

  14. Annelid Gustator says:

    Just off hand, I wonder how you know they don’t? They could well have something liek that and just be bad at it.

  15. QuakerOtis says:

    Well, then they should improve it. I can see how a bad one (Rongen) could be worse than none at all.

    That said, I’m not sure this matters a ton, not sure it’s worth any amount of resources. Players like G Rossi made their minds up when they were 5, and if the Timmy Chandlers of the world can’t be persuaded by JK and a likely starting spot in the WC… why worry about them?

  16. QuakerOtis says:

    On second read, I missed your point. But I think the same thing goes: not sure there’s much a coaching staff or “advisor” type person can do at THIS level if the player’s personality, familly/friends/loved ones, or circumstance are just not aligned to their benefit. Adu is a classic case of all three… and being too small.

  17. OC says:

    Ruiz already a flop??

  18. kevdflb says:

    what is a BPL team?

  19. Ryan Nanez says:

    barclays premier league

  20. Yoko Ono says:

    2 goals and a few assists in 30 or so games for a £11million purchase would say Yes

  21. Bolt says:

    He seems to have improved greatly during his time with AZ, especially his hold-up play, and I am really curious to see if/how it translates to his US game. In my daydreams, I see him creating all kinds of havoc with a fit Dempsey and Gomez running off him.

    Regarding representing the US, has Altidore ever commented on why he is the only player during the US anthem to have his hands behind his back? Yes, I realize some people don’t care — or get downright defensive — whenever this question is asked, but, when 10 of your teammates and the entire bench are doing it, it is obviously a choice on his part not to. If the symbolism had no significance to him, then I’m guessing he would just do it, as a show of solidarity with his mates. But apparently it does have significance. So, has anyone ever heard him explain what’s behind his avoidance of such a simple gesture?

  22. Yoko Ono says:

    Our first world class striker has some ways to go. Top scorer in Eredivisie 4games in despite not scoring in 2.5weeks.

  23. Yoko Ono says:

    Our first world class striker has some ways to go. Top scorer in Eredivisie 4games in despite not scoring in 2.5weeks.

  24. Robert Daniels says:

    To be fair he never really got an opportunity at Villareal. The games he did play in he performed realitivley well and scored goals.

  25. Judging Amy says:

    Watch the games. Ruiz is a good player and still young. Lies, damned lies and what’s the third one again?

  26. Judging Amy says:

    Check your logic: RVP, Suarez, KJHuntelaar.

  27. 20 says:

    I would not call Ruiz a flop just yet. Sure he was a little below expectations last season but has started off well this year.

  28. RLW2020 says:

    true, but 10 million?!? he is not even worth that much now..

  29. RLW2020 says:

    i haven’t seen much of his AZ games, just highlights but i think the fitness issue was really apparent back when he would go 90 min every game for the USNT and then months between full games for his clubs; Xerez, Hull, Villareal, etc. I haven’t noticed that issue over the summer..

    Playing in the quick tempo 4-4-2 days was not really good for him as he was forced to keep up with Davies, Donovan, Findley, EJ, etc.. I think that if we can get our speed from the wings; Donovan, Shea, Gyau, Gaat and possession from Bradley and Jones in middle then in the future then our Boyd, Dempsey, Gomez, Altidore striker group will really benefit as they prefer to make smaller and more technical moves inside the box rather than break away counter attacks.

  30. RLW2020 says:

    what was wrong with McBride, Wynalda, Harks or Max-Moore? or id say at their best Dempsey or Donovan are “world class” strikers (i guess more often midfielders)

    Altidore has a lot of potential but i wouldn’t say he is any better that that group yet..don’t act like this is first legitimate squad we have ever had.

  31. ARGH says:

    If he scores 25 goals this season, I will give him my wife

  32. ARGH says:

    Altidore, Gomez, Boyd and a big drop to Wondo, Agudelo, Bunbury

    whatever happened to Buddle?

  33. Alex says:

    And a longggggggg time to get there. Cheers!

  34. Dennis says:

    If he does, he can probably do better!

  35. Dennis says:

    Good for Jozy. At his age Wondo was just getting out of UCLA and was 6 years from his peak. I never got how anyone can claim that any player will NEVER be any good, or that any player is a sure bet to be an international star. There are so many things that come into the mix, as Jozy had demonstrated a certain resiliency is a great asset.

    In any case, predicting the future is so hard! When I figure it out, I’lll get rich on the stock market.

  36. abc says:

    LOL Altidore is definitely better than Harkes (who is less of a striker than “more often midfielders” Donovan and Dempsey), Wynalda, and Max Moore.
    But he needs to maintain this consistently to be world class.

  37. abc says:

    Buddle:
    Uhh, he had one good half season in 2010?

    He didn’t do anything at Ingolstadt, and now with the Galaxy, why are you even mentioning him?

  38. abc says:

    Remember when like half a dozen people around here used to constantly refer to him as “Lazy OutTheDoor”?

    That was just a year ago. Where did they go??

  39. Amazed says:

    “Was labeled washed up at the ages of 19 and 20″. Can you cite one place beyond some moron on BS or on the comments section of SBI that has labeled him this way. Don’t say this as if it was quoted by a soccer pundit in a newspaper or during a game or as if it’s common knowledge. Very few people actually went so far as to say dumbsh.. like this.

  40. Mark says:

    I just wish Altidore would play with more heart and not give up on plays. I wish he would challenge harder for 50/50 balls and actually fight hard and lay out for headers.

  41. GW says:

    There are always flops but you may be a little premature on those two.

    If you care to go look at the half full side of the glass consider that scorers like
    Van Basten, Bergkamp, Romario, Ronaldo (the orginal), Ruud Van Nistelrroy, Patrick Kluivert, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Dirk Kuyt, Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie,did well in “better leagues”.

  42. GW says:

    There are always flops but you may be a little premature on those two.

    If Jozy does finish as top scorer he will be in pretty good company.

    If you care to look at the half full side of the glass, consider that scorers like
    Van Basten, Bergkamp, Romario, Ronaldo (the orginal), Ruud Van Nistelrroy, Patrick Kluivert, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Dirk Kuyt, Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie,did well in “better leagues”. All of them except for RVP were top scorer at one point in Holland.

    A lot of good soccer players come out of that league. Don’t act as if what Jozy is doing there is not a big deal because it is.

  43. GW says:

    There are always flops but you may be a little premature on those two.

    If Jozy does finish as top scorer he will be in pretty good company.

    If you care to look at the half full side of the glass, consider that scorers like
    Van Basten, Bergkamp, Romario, Ronaldo (the orginal), Ruud Van Nistelrroy, Patrick Kluivert, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Dirk Kuyt, Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie,did well in “better leagues”. All of them except for RVP were top scorer at one point in Holland.

    A lot of good soccer players come out of that league. Don’t act as if what Jozy is doing there is not a big deal because it is.

  44. GW says:

    In the AZ 4-3-3 I’m not so sure the other two in the “3″ qualify as strikers. They do provide Jozy with excellent service.

    In Jozy’s US games, for the most part, when he is the lone striker, he has gotten next to no service and has been left to chase the occasional long ball.

  45. SFreud says:

    You are ignoring the much more important and relevant question, as it relates to team solidarity and the obvious tension between Jozy and the others.

    I am referring of course to the infamous half squat, partly bent knees during the team picture. There is no doubt that this is an even more significant indicator of a deep divide between JOzy and his more upright teamates. It reflects his inner ambivalence towards a total committment to this team.

    If he were “all in” so to speak he would be in a full squat or the would stand up straight. Instead you get this in between crap.

    And now its the hands behind the back, a subtle protest gesture!

    Whats next? Maybe he partially untucks his shirt? Or does not completely roll up his socks?

    You’re on to something Bolt.

  46. GW says:

    No one in the present US pool is “world class” ( whatever that means).

    However Holland is often a good stepping stone to greater things and Jozy is still young, so he has a chance to be “world class”.

  47. GW says:

    You must be new to SBI.

  48. GW says:

    How do you know he doesn’t?

  49. Brett says:

    Jozy is a good player, but his lack of fitness will always haunt him until he slims down. That large muscular frame of his requires a lot of energy to move up and down the pitch. If he wants to be a 90 minute player, he’s really going to have to pick and choose when to sprint.

    His hold up play has improved and if he gets support off the ball he knows where to position himself. He gets these things to become strengths of his game like his powerful shot and we will have a great player on our hands.

  50. This Guy says:

    Will never support the guy until he puts his hand over his heart for the National Anthem. It’s part of the Federal Flag Code and should be respected when wearing the US uniform in any circumstance.

  51. Dennis says:

    I dunno, he seems much more trim and fit than say Graham Holt who playes for Norwich in the EPL and seems to be doing pretty well and who is pretty good at pressing up to harrass defenders and keepers for the whole 90 minutes..

  52. Dennis says:

    There are a lot of players you won’t support then.

  53. FYI – veterans in civilian clothes are now allowed to render the hand salute for the National Anthem. I always do.

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  55. Boswinga's Unibrow says:

    talk about reading too much into things… relevant username, I suppose

  56. Shawn says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if AZ valued him close to that now, actually.

  57. Shawn says:

    Exactly. AZ’s other 2 forwards are Dutch style wingers. They cut in off the flanks a fair amount, but they still are there primarily for service.

    With the US, when Jozy was lone striker, he was basically abandoned in no-hope-ville and then blamed for being marked by 2-3 players all match.

  58. Shawn says:

    Read the posts, they’re still here. They whine about him going a whole 2 weeks without a goal. About ‘posture’ or ‘body language.’

    Bottom line. A striker’s job is to score goals. Altidore did last season, and he’s doing it this season too.

  59. Shawn says:

    Is he a striker, or defender? You want a center forward to high press the opponent’s d-line all by himself? Nonsense.

    He high-presses when the rest of the forward line applies pressure. Otherwise, he should simply keep watch for a lazy ball.

  60. Isaac says:

    I’m just saying… Altidore only played with Eddie Johnson once in his whole time with the U.S…

    #FactChecker ;)

  61. Mike Bradley's Mom says:

    I disagree, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley are world class. Whatever that means….

  62. ben says:

    Jozy’s recent progress at AZ is extremely encouraging, and I think it would be a mistake to expect too much too soon. The best thing for him is to settle in, get reps, and gradually learn the game and build confidence. He’s only 22…remember, even a guy like Drogba was struggling with fitness in the French 2nd division at Jozy’s age (if Wikipedia can be believed), it wasn’t until he was 25 or 26 that he really had a successful top flight season. I’m not suggesting that Jozy will be better than Drogba, just that development can take time, and he’s already doing pretty well. I say we be happy that Jozy has found a stable, comfortable club situation where he can really grow.

  63. GW says:

    World Class?

    People rarely define what they mean by “world class player”.

    My definition is he would have to be one of the 23 on the roster of the best players from all over the world.

    One problem is do you pick the 23 best players regardless of position? What if you wound up with 10 goalkeepers and 13 right backs)?

    To make it simpler I prefer to have a starting 11, their backups and then the third keeper.

    The five players I know I would have are Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Christiano Ronaldo and Buffon. After that the identity of the next 18 gets very contentious, which is part of the fun.

    As good as they are, Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley, Dolo and Howard, in my view our best players, get nowhere near a 23 like that.

  64. Shawn says:

    Timmy unquestionably is. Deuce at the end of last season was on the cusp. MB has the potential to be, but even as big a fan as I am of his game, let’s not assume he’s a Midfield Maestro for Roma yet. That said, his performance at Chievo was top-shelf.

  65. This Guy says:

    As do I.