COMMENTARY | Jozy Altidore has had quite the year. It was just about this time last summer that he was labeled as being a player who couldn't bring his club form to the United States Men's National Team, one who was also reportedly out of favor with US boss Jurgen Klinsmann. Now, as the upcoming summer transfer window looms ahead, Altidore is a scoring machine for the USMNT and the most sought-after American forward in the world.
Nothing's changed if you ask him, though.
"I feel the exact same as I did one year ago," he told me while hosting an event for the Jozy Altidore Foundation at the Upper 90 soccer shop located in Manhattan on Thursday evening. "I feel that nothing has changed for me, what I'm about and what I do. It's all part of of the process of being a professional. You're going to have your ups and your downs. You're going to hear people talk and what not. But you have to stick with what you believe in and just try and get better."
Altidore, who scored 31 goals across all competitions for AZ Alkmaar in 2012-13, began a brilliant run of national team form that saw him find the back of the net four times in four games with a beautiful half-volley during a friendly against Germany back on June 2. Some would, looking back, consider that to be a breakthrough moment for the 23-year old. He wouldn't agree.
"To be honest, I've felt fine," he said. "I've always felt that if I could get the chances I can be a guy who could put them away. It was all about waiting for those opportunities and being patient, not losing your mind or losing your head."
Altidore's "take the good with the bad" mentality didn't keep him from releasing a big smile when it was mentioned that the United States are all-but guaranteed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. "It's a great feeling to take nine points from those three (qualifiers)," he explained. "It is what we set out to do, but things don't always finish picture perfect. For us to do that and also for us to play the way that we did has left everybody very excited."
Qualifiers don't resume until September, but the United States are set to begin their Gold Cup journey on July 9. Americans who play their club football overseas miss out on this competition due to the start of preseason training. That is something that the current AZ star regrets. "I haven't won the Gold Cup," he stated. "I've only won one title in my career. I would love to play in the Gold Cup and to win. I can't speak for everybody, but me personally, I want to win championships. I want to win titles. I would absolutely love to play in the next one. You don't get tired of winning, and I'd like more chances (to do so)."
The big story for the US heading into that competition is the return of Landon Donovan, who will be looking to impress Klinsmann leading up to the September qualifiers. Altidore couldn't say enough good things about arguably the greatest American footballer of all time. "Landon, what's he done in the past ten years, that speaks for itself," he said. "I think he's a very talented player, and he's always shown that. It's not easy when all the eyes are on you. I think he's dealt with things really well. I've gotten to know him over the past four or five years, and he's always been a really good guy. He gets a lot of stick sometime, but I think as a player he one of the most talented I've ever had the pleasure of playing alongside of."
Thursday night's event in New York, one that raised nearly $2,000 for the JA Foundation, involved fans meeting Altidore and also getting autographs from and taking pictures with the former RBNY striker. Among that crowd were plenty of Red Bulls supporters, nearly all of whom told Altidore that they want to see him back in New York as a full-time player. They'll get their wish when the time is right if Altidore has his way. "Red Bull is still such a special period for me," he told me. "It was my first taste of being a professional. Playing for such a big club in MLS, and Red Bulls are one of the bigger clubs, was an honor. It was a great experience for me and it's something I'll never forget. Hopefully I can one day come back and help them win a championship."
For a variety of reasons, Altidore understandably couldn't say much about the rumors that have linked him with a summer move to one of a variety of clubs such as Sunderland and Lazio. He is, at the moment, merely taking care of what he can to prepare for whatever awaits him. "I mean, I'm the same as I have been the past few years," he said. "I'm mostly focused on trying to improve and trying to get fit for the season."
What struck me the most during our brief conversation was Altidore's determination to win championships for club and for country, and also his desire to feature at the highest level. Make no mistake about it. Altidore is ready for the big stage.
His form suggests that he is in for another exciting and successful year.
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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